The American Prison Writing Archive

The following is a message from the Hamilton College Digital Humanities Initiative. 

The United States holds more prisoners and employs more prison staff than any other nation on earth.  But there is no central location where the public, policy makers, students or researchers can benefit from the many years of first-hand experience of prisoners and prison workers.  The American Prison Writing Archive is an in-progress, internet-based, digital archive of non-fiction essays that will offer the public first-hand testimony to the living and working conditions experienced by prisoners, prison employees, and prison volunteers. Anyone who lives, works, or volunteers inside American prisons can contribute work to the APWA.  We seek authors who write with the authority that only first-person experience can bring.

We are open to many styles, but all submitted essays must draw on first-hand experience.

All topics are of interest, including descriptions of sources of stress, ways of coping, health care, causes of violence and ways to reduce violence, material conditions, education, employment conditions and the challenges these conditions present, the environment for volunteers, the aging prison population, visions of a better way to operate (personally, politically, institutionally, etc.), reflections on the work of dealing with time inside (for workers as well as prisoners), the challenges of physical and psychological survival, public perception and popular depictions of prisoners and prison workers, the politics and economics of mass incarceration, what works and why it works, and what doesn’t work and why it doesn’t work (i.e. practical views on reform), etc.  We are open to any testimony about the issues that matter to prison staff, administrators, corrections officers, teachers, volunteers, and prisoners.

We value writing that takes thoughtful, constructive positions even on passionately felt ideas.

The APWA is intended for researchers and for the general public, to help them understand American prison conditions and the prison’s practical effects and place in society. All the work in the APWA will be accessible to anyone, anywhere in the world with access to the Internet. The APWA will open the American prison to public observation, and showcase the thinking and writing being produced inside.

Once included in the APWA, work will be retained indefinitely. Contributors can write under pseudonyms or anonymously.  We reserve the right to edit or reject work that advocates violence, names names in ongoing legal cases, or libels named individuals.  The APWA is not currently accepting poetry or fiction.  We accept art (on a single 8.5×11 page) only if accompanied by an essay.  A signed permission sheet must be included to post work on the APWA.  By signing on the signature line below, you are granting us permission to include your work in the APWA.  The questionnaire information will be used to offer researchers points of reference (for example, to study the specific concerns of staff who are veterans, or of Black and Latino men in maximum-security facilities).

Please pass the APWA address and questionnaire to other prisoners, prison workers, and volunteers. (Photocopied, handwritten, or re-typed copies of the questionnaire are acceptable.)  There is no deadline.   We seek the widest possible gathering of American prison writing, and we will read, scan, and transcribe essays into the APWA on a continuing basis.  Previously published work is acceptable if authors retain copyright.  Please let us know where and when your essay appeared in print. 

Non-fiction essays, based on first-hand experience, should be limited to 5,000 words (15 double-spaced pages).  Clearly hand-written pages are welcome.  We charge no fees.  We will read all writing submitted.

The permissions-questionnaire on the APWA site MUST accompany all submissions. For more information and to download the questionnaire, go to:  

Mail essays to Doran Larson, Ph.D. Professor of English & Creative Writing at or to:


198 College Hill Road

Clinton, NY 13323