Lyle May was awarded 3rd Place in Nonfiction Essay in the 2022 Prison Writing Contest.

Every year, hundreds of imprisoned people from around the country submit poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and dramatic works to PEN America’s Prison Writing Contest, one of the few outlets of free expression for the country’s incarcerated population.


Central Prison’s programs department ignored two letters about my missing exam. Bad enough it was a retake because the original got lost in the mail. Now the retake was missing. But this time it was Programs. The staffer who proctored the exam promised to scan and email it to the university, but it never happened. Against my better judgment I asked the unit manager and a sergeant to get involved and call Programs. In the past these custody staff went out of their way to make life hard on everyone, but I was out of options.

Two days later I was summoned to the Sergeant’s Office with another prisoner enrolled in correspondence courses. Smothering a smirk, the sergeant related the news. The North Carolina Division of Prisoners Education Coordinator, in an email to the Programs Department, terminated access to educational courses for death row prisoners. It didn’t matter that we were in the middle of courses paid for by our sponsors, or that no policy expressly prohibited correspondence courses for death row prisoners.

To finish reading this, as well as the works of all other contributors, purchase Variations on an Undisclosed Location: 2022 Prison Writing Awards Anthology here.