American Prison Writing Archive

Humanity's Love document

National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) Logo


The United States holds 2.2 million citizens in its prisons and jails—a higher number and constituting a higher percentage of its population than in any other nation on earth. Yet there remains widespread ignorance of conditions inside. This ignorance leads to indifference to how incarcerated Americans and prison workers experience those conditions. This disregard does a disservice to free-world citizens, policy makers, students and scholars, as well as to those who work and live in incarceration. We suffer effective censorship of the foremost resource for understanding the realities of imprisonment today. 
The American Prison Writing Archive is a place where imprisoned people and prison staff can write about and document their experience. It is a site where all who live or work inside can bear witness to what is working and what is not inside American prisons, thus grounding public debate about the American prison crisis in lived experience. 
The APWA is open to contributions by current and formerly incarcerated people, correctional officers, staff, administrators and volunteers.  It is a virtual meeting place where we can learn from of all who live and work inside.  The APWA is an open-source archive accessible to a global readership.  It spreads the voices of unheard populations, 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.


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 project as a physical and digital archive, growing out of a book project, Fourth City: Essays from the Prison in America.  He has maintained an active and ongoing call for essays submitted by incarcerated people and prison staff across the country.  These essays are digitized and added to the archive at:  The APWA is actively developed in collaboration with the Digital Humanities Initiative's Collection Development Team with early funding from the Andrew Mellon Foundation.  Since its inception, the APWA has received additional funding from Hamilton College’s Office of the Dean of Faculty.  This three-year NEH grant will enable the APWA to double its size and increase its faceted search capacities.

Read the Hamilton College news announcement here:

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this database, do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.


Project Directors

Student Assistants

Collection Development Team