Throughout this website and in APWA materials, we use humanizing language when referring to imprisoned people, as described in the guidelines developed by The Marshall Project.

The American Prison Writing Archive is an internet-based, digital archive of non-fiction essays and poems offering first-hand testimony to the conditions and effects experienced by incarcerated people, prison employees, and prison volunteers.

Essays range in length, complexity and tone. Current efforts to grow the Archive seek to prioritize populations which are currently underrepresented. Archive staff do not edit the essays, though may redact personally identifiable information to protect privacy. We will redact or reject work that advocates violence, names names in ongoing legal cases, or libels named individuals.

The archive solicits writings by circulating ads in prison publications, building relationships with organizations working with system-impacted individuals, and integrating writing originally housed within partner organization’s projects to ensure these pieces are part of the larger prison witness canon.

The Archive is housed in the Sheridan Libraries Archive at Johns Hopkins University. The writings making up the Archive come from all over the United States. In its move to JHU from Hamilton, the Archive has maintained the same level of communication with its authors as it always has, and is committed to strengthening lines of communication and transparency as it continues to grow.

APWA’s intention is to help the mass public to better understand the social, physical, and psychic effects of American imprisonment from those who know it best—incarcerated people – as well as document the complexity of people’s lives and institutions. The Archive is a connection place for incarcerated individuals, their families and friends, and the general public.

The APWA is an open-access archive accessible to a global readership. It spreads the voices and aspirations of relatively unheard populations in closed institutions, thus increasing awareness and improving the ease with which we can all better educate ourselves about one of America’s most powerful and most problematic institutions.

If you are an academic, artist, humanist, researcher, activist, historian, policy writer, journalist, etc. and would like to utilize these works to center prison witness in your field, please collect these works and disseminate respectfully.

Honor the writing and use it in its full context.  Avoid taking any statement out of context in order to convey ideas at odds with the intent of the writer. No work in the Archive should be taken as the basis or justification for increased punishment or exploitation.  If your project utilizing the Archive will result in monetary gains, contact us first so we may connect you with the authors to discuss direct consent and compensation for their work.

Contact the Archive with your request, specifying which author(s) you’d like to contact and for what purpose. We will only facilitate contact for permission to publish writer’s essays, not to establish ongoing communication or solicitation.

How to submit

Write to the APWA 

American Prison Writing Archive
Johns Hopkins University
3400 N. Charles St.
Baltimore, MD 21218

Any incarcerated or formerly incarcerated individual can provide writing to the Archive. The consent-for-use specified on the Permission Questionnaire (PQ) indicates whether or not it will be displayed in the Archive. Our default practice is to digitize everything we receive, just as we receive it, unless the subject matter is outside our mission: documenting the criminal legal system and especially prison conditions and experience.

You may see redaction marks (black or white rectangles covering text) where personally identifiable information has been redacted to protect privacy. This is especially important when an author is writing anonymously, using a pen name, or has shared personal details about other people.

Image Credit: F., Kevin. Update #26, Feb. 2015.

Terminology Guide

Commonly used terms, acronyms, and abbreviations found in the Archive

Administrative segregation, isolation housing used for punishment or protection (see also SHU, the hole, the box)

Segment of a prison complex, an independent building, or section of a larger building, such as in Attica Correctional Facility, whose four sides each constitute a lettered block, from A to D

Parole board, which determines whether incarcerated individuals will be released on parole, short of meeting their maximum sentence date (or “max out”)

Also called special housing unit (SHU), administrative segregation (ad-seg) – removal from the larger, general prison population, as punishment, into a more restrictive physical unit with more limited privileges (e.g., only one hour or half hour per day out of the locked cell; see also the hole)

Chronology of the series of programs a person has completed to prove they have been rehabilitated, as in “ . . . and gave me an ‘attaboy’ chrono for the parole board.”

A policy whereby, if deemed a continuing threat to the public, a person registered as a sex offender can be held indefinitely

Corrections or correctional officer

A section of a block, gallery, or tier; a floor of a multi-floor or multi-tier housing unit 

Meeting to investigate and determine punishment for a prison crime or a violation of prison rules 

Department of Corrections; used to indicate prison administration and staff, this acronym is often matched with the initial(s) of a state: for example, the VADOC, for Virginia Department of Corrections

People housed in standard conditions with the majority of others in any prison facility, as distinct from those in the box, infirmary, an honor block, etc.

Also called special housing unit (SHU), or administrative segregation (Ad- Seg)— a place for those removed from the larger prison population, as punishment, into a more restrictive physical unit with more limited privileges (e.g., only one hour or half hour per day out of the locked cell; see also the box)

A housing unit in some prisons for people with clean behavior records; offers privileges such as larger cells, more time out of cells, more showers per week, cooking facilities, refrigerators, a private yard, etc. 

Life without parole, or life without possibility of parole (sometimes called “the other death penalty”)

Each incarcerated person is designated by a prison or Department Identification number which identifies them throughout their incarceration; for example, in New York State, 03X772 indicates that a person entered prison in 2003, was processed through facility X, and was the 772nd person processed through facility X in 2003.

Required or voluntary programs aimed at rehabilitation, such as ART (Aggression Replacement Training), academic or vocational training, job assignments, etc.; used as a gerund, “I participated in all available programming,” or “They’ve been programming.”

Placement in a special and/or isolation unit, not as punishment but to protect an incarcerated person from anticipated assault; this can be voluntary on the part of the individual, or IPC (Involuntary Protective Custody)

A facility where a person is processed into the prison system 

Officer in charge of reviewing a charge against an incarcerated individual 

Special Housing Unit, isolation housing used for punishment or protection (see also the hole, the box)

Recreation yard, typically a space open to the sky with some athletic equipment, pay phones, TVs, etc.