PEN America has run a prison writing program for over forty years. The program provides mentors, free resources and an audience for the incarcerated. This program benefits the prisoners, who get a chance to reflect on their lives through the written word and to express themselves in new ways. But the program also benefits society. Why? Because it results in less recidivism and because it humanizes those who, perhaps through circumstances beyond their control, are largely seen as statistics.
PEN America has now announced a Writing for Justice Fellowship. This will involve the commissioning of six writers to “create written works of lasting merit that illuminate critical issues related to mass incarceration and catalyze public debate.” The six writers, who may work in any genre, will be awarded an honorarium of $10,000 each in order to fund travel and research. Each fellowship lasts one year.
According to PEN America, “the Writing for Justice Fellowship aims to harness the power of writers and writing in bearing witness to the societal consequences of mass incarceration by capturing and sharing the stories of incarcerated individuals, their families, communities, and the wider impact of the criminal justice system. Our goal is to ignite a broad, sustained conversation about the dangers of over-incarceration and the imperative to mobilize behind rational and humane policies. As an organization of writers dedicated to promoting free expression and informed discourse, PEN America is honored to have been entrusted by the Art for Justice Fund to engage the literary community in addressing this pressing societal issue.”
More power to the PEN.