Our Story

There has been a missing voice in the emerging debate about what’s wrong with our prison system — the voice of the men and women living it. Prison Writers was created to give (mostly maximum-security) prisoners a place to publish their non-fiction stories about life behind bars.

Prison Writers has received hundreds and hundreds of stories from incarcerated writers, covering a variety of topics, including cellmates, smuggling, contraband, abuse from prison guards, the lack of educational programs, gang life, lockdowns, rape, fights, water shortages, visitation, animals and more.

We have a mission to be a leading voice within the prison reform movement. Since no one is allowed inside the prison walls to explore the harsh realities that plague our prison system, we have provided prisoners with an outlet to share with us their experiences. We want to uncover the truth, so that the prison system can become a more effective system for all members of society.

Our Goals

We aim to make aims to make a positive change within the criminal justice system by doing the following:

  • Educating people on what life is like behind bars.
  • Advocating for prison and criminal justice reform.
  • Providing prisoners with a sense of purpose and responsibility.
  • Preparing prisoners for success for when they complete their sentence.

Our Valuable Team Members

Lewis Kelley
Lewis KelleyExecutive Director
Lewis Kelley currently serves as the Executive Director of Prison Writers. He manages the website content as well as the organization’s marketing, social media, and branding efforts. Lewis is committed to helping establish Prison Writers as a credible voice within the criminal justice community and prison reform movement.
Michael Hiestand
Michael HiestandCo-Founder
Michael worked for USA Today for 23 years and was the first columnist to cover the business side of sports. He’s written numerous articles for national publications on politics, advertising, sports and books.
Loen Kelley
Loen KelleyCo-Founder
While producing crime-related documentaries for 48 Hours at CBS News, Loen interviewed dozens of prisoners inside prisons. She has also worked at CNN, CNBC, PBS and Harvard — where she had the privilege of working with Harvard professor Michael Sandel, the well-renowned moral philosopher of Justice. She produced a TV series (PBS) and website with Professor Sandel and, along the way, became a fleeting expert on the morality of right and wrong.

What We’ve Learned

Our first surprise when we started Prison Writers, was the caliber of writing. But it wasn’t long before the bigger surprise became the passionate and positive feedback we got from our writers, thanking us for giving all prisoners a voice.

We had no idea Prison Writers would become a lifeline to so many of our writers. They tell us that we’ve given them a feeling of pride again, something they thought they would never be able to feel again. They like having goals worth striving for, a sense of purpose and hope, new things to think about and new worlds to explore. And many feel buoyed knowing they’re part of a greater good, in a community of their peers, working together to change prison policies.

Editor’s Note

We pay our writers $10 per published article, which is a fortune to some of the indigent inmates and a blessing to the rest.  I pay them because I think all writers deserve to be paid for their published work. And nothing is more rehabilitative for them than having someone believe that their work, their voice and their writing has value out in the real world.

If a story needs heavy editing, we give writers some suggestions and ask them to try again. In some cases, we ask writers to rewrite certain sections; in other cases, we only fix a typo or two. Sometimes we move a paragraph or two around. But in all cases, we never do more than very light editing. Where necessary, we “translated” prison lingo for our readers. When possible, we fact-check any verifiable information.

Please Donate!

With your help, we can keep our writers writing!

We pay our writers $10 for every story that we publish. Help us support these writers so that we can continue to share their stories.
Please Donate!

Helpful Information For New Writers

If you know of an incarcerated writer who might be interested in contributing to Prison Writers, please send them Helpful Information for New Writers.

Please Note: Unfortunately, are not accepting any new stories at this time. We currently do not have enough volunteers to handle the large influx of stories that we have received. As we continue to bring on new volunteers, we will begin accepting more stories. Thank you for your patience!