Prison Writers is the first outlet devoted exclusively to publishing stories written by prisoners and the first to pay incarcerated writers for their work. We launched in 2015 to give prisoners a voice.
Taxpayers are spending $80 billion dollars a year to maintain an unjust prison system that perpetuates recidivism and fuels racism. It needs to be overhauled, but where to begin?
The prison industry has no oversight — not over the cell blocks where prisoners are caged, not over the “chow halls” where they’re served watered-down slop, and not over the renegade Correctional Officers — found in every single prison in America — who humiliate and abuse inmates for pleasure. Besides prison staff, almost no one gets past the visiting rooms. There isn’t an outside agency that monitors its spending or oversees the efficacy of its programs or imposes severe penalties for transgressions or advises for change. And for that reason, very little information gets out.
That’s where Prison Writers comes in. We give incarcerated writers the chance to tell the outside world what is really happening behind those bars.
What We’ve Learned
When we started Prison Writers, we had no idea it would become a lifeline for so many of our writers. We’ve received dozens and dozens of letters from prisoners thanking us for giving them a sense of purpose, something they thought they’d never find again. They love knowing someone on the outside cares about them and their message. They love having a “boss” who gives them deadlines. And they feel buoyed knowing they’re part of a greater good, in a community of their peers, working together to change prison policies.
We pay our writers $10 per published article, a small fortune to prisoners who work for next to nothing. (In Texas, prisoners aren’t paid at ALL.) And nothing is more rehabilitative and inspiring for someone living in caged isolation than having someone from the outside world care about their well-being and believe in their efforts to rehabilitate themselves.
A note on editing: If a story needs to be rewritten or restructured, we give writers our suggestions and ask them to try again. For other stories, we might move a paragraph or two around or fix typos. But in all cases, we never do more than very light editing. Where necessary, we “translate” prison lingo for our readers. When possible, we fact-check any verifiable information.
Helpful Information For New Writers
If you know of an incarcerated writer who might be interested in contributing to Prison Writers, please have them send stories to me via Jpay. If Jpay isn’t available in their state, they can send stories (preferably typed!!) to me: Loen Kelley at PO Box 334 in NY, NY 10002. And if they’d like more information, please send them Helpful Information for New Writers.