American Prison Writing Archive

Humanity's Love document


The United States holds 2.4 million citizens in its prisons and jails—a higher percentage of its population than in any other nation on earth. Yet despite a record rate of incarceration, there remains a remarkable ignorance of, or willed indifference to conditions inside our prisons, let alone how incarcerated Americans experience those conditions. This disregard does a disservice not only to incarcerated Americans but to free-world citizens, students, and scholars. We suffer effective censorship of the foremost resource for understanding the realities of imprisonment today.

There is a real need to create a single-site where American prison writers can write about and document their experience and where free-world citizens—including scholars, and students in a growing field of study of criminal justice and mass incarceration—can access such writing. No such archive yet exists. The American Prison Writing Archive will be a place where incarcerated people can bear witness to the conditions in which they live, to what is working and what is not inside American prisons, and where they can contribute to public debate about the American prison crisis.

The American Prison Writing Archive site will also be open to contributions by correctional officers, prison staff, and prison administrators, thus creating a true meeting place and venue for comparative expression by and study of all of those who live and work inside American prisons. In creating a resource that can be accessed online, by a wide diversity of people, I hope that Hamilton can serve as the host for a public conversation that will include all of the members of a notably unheard population, increase awareness, and improve the ease with which all citizens — prisoners, students, scholars and the general public — can better educate themselves about one of America's most powerful and most problematic institutions.


Please click the link below for the printable American Prison Writing Archive permissions-questionnaire.  This document must be signed and completed by all authors contributing essays to the Archive.


Doran Larson, Wolcott-Bartlett Professor of Literature & Creative Writing and project director of the American Prison Writing Archive (APWA) at the Digital Humanities Initiative (DHi), has been awarded $262,000 by the National Endowment of the Humanities (NEH).  This grant is the largest NEH grant awarded solely to a Hamilton College faculty member in 17 years.

Larson has been working on the APWA with DHi since 2010, and has developed this research as a physical archive, a digital archive, and an accompanying book, Fourth City: Essays from the Prison in America.  He has maintained an active and ongoing call for essays submitted by inmates and prison staff across the country, which are regularly digitized and added to the archive at:  This archive is actively developed in collaboration with the Digital Humanities Initiative's Collection Development Team.

This three-year NEH grant will enable the APWA to double the size of the archive and increase its faceted search capacities, Larson said. For example, a researcher will be able to specifically search for writing by inmates’ race, state, religion and with specific keywords such as “foster care.”

Read the Hamilton College news announcement here:


Project Directors

Student Assistants

Collection Development Team