PEN Prison Writing Program Benefit

Year and years and years ago, back when Culturebot was a poet living in Seattle, he volunteered for a “Poetry in Prisons” project. It was a mind-altering experience. I was in my early 20s at the time and was amazed just to meet people in prison, not to mention people serving life sentences. To work on poetry together, doing readings and listening to their words, was eye opening.

Well, for more than 30 years, PEN’s Prison Writing Program has been dedicated to helping make the harsh realities of American imprisonment part of our social justice dialogue. PEN’s program has also been on the front-lines of prison reform, helping inmates in federal, state and local penitentiaries cope with life behind bars, gain skills and have a voice while they are there. The Prison Writing Program accomplishes all this through mentorships and an annual writing competition that receives between 20-30 entries per day from local, state and federal prisons—including from prisoners on death row.

On Monday, November 9, 2009 at 7pm, WNYC Radio’s The Jerome L. Greene Performance Space’s monthly dialogue series, “The NEXT New York Conversation” partners with PEN to presentBREAKOUT: VOICES FROM THE INSIDE, a night of literature and conversation. Luminaries from the New York cultural landscape – writers Mary Gaitskill, Eric Bogosian and Patricia Smith, along with actor John Turturro, among others–will read pieces chosen from the best of the winning manuscripts of the Prison Writing Contest, and from the extraordinarily moving diaries that men and women have written as part of PEN’s collaboration with the Anne Frank Center, USA.

Proceeds from the evening will benefit PEN’s Prison Writing Program. The event will be streamed live on the web at

The United States has the highest documented incarceration rate in the world; there are hundreds and hundreds of prisons across the country and, as of 2007, these institutions housed more than 2,300,000 inmates—70% of whom are non-white. Nearly 1 million of those in prison are serving time for committing non-violent crimes. Sadly, the situation is not improving.

The second-annual Prison Writing Benefit Reading will help to raise much-needed funds to enable this important program to continue into the future, but also to help the prisoners see themselves in a new way: as writers.

Monday, November 9, 2009 at 7:00 PM

The Greene Space, 44 Charlton at Varick, NYC
Duration: 2 hours

Tickets can be purchased at Ovation Tix (

Collaborator: $75

Friend: $50

Collaborator ticket covers the expenses of one-on-one mentoring services between a PEN member and an incarcerated man or woman for one year. This premier ticket includes the best views and a reception following the program.

Friend ticket covers the postage and printing costs to provide eight incarcerated men and women with a free copy PEN’s Handbooks for Writers in Prison. This ticket includes a reception following the program.

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