Skip to content Skip to footer

Keeley Schenwar Memorial Essay Prize

The annual prize is awarded to two writers who are currently or formerly incarcerated.

The Truthout Center for Grassroots Journalism is proud to host the annual Keeley Schenwar Memorial Essay Prize, for work authored by people who are currently or formerly incarcerated. Since 2021, each year, we have awarded two prizes for an original essay of 1,500 words or less on the topic of prisons, policing or a related subject. It may be written as a first-person narrative (although that is not a requirement). Each of the two winners is awarded a prize of $3,000. The essays are published on Truthout.

This prize is in honor of Keeley Schenwar, who was a devoted mother, daughter, sister, friend, writer and advocate for incarcerated mothers. Keeley was incarcerated, on and off, over the course of 14 years. She wrote often, both poetry and prose, particularly focusing on her experiences of incarceration and addiction. Keeley spoke out publicly about the inhumanity of the U.S. prison system and wrote about her own experience of incarceration. She wrote this essay about giving birth while incarcerated, and the brutality of being separated from her newborn baby.

Keeley died on February 4, 2020. This prize is in the spirit of Keeley’s desire for the kind of world where everyone can live a good life.

Keeley was the sister of Maya Schenwar, director of the Truthout Center for Grassroots Journalism. Keeley was one of the inspirations for Truthout’s early and sustained dedication to covering the injustices and violence of incarceration and policing.

The Keeley Schenwar Memorial Essay Prize is reopened each year to continue drawing attention to the cruel realities of the oppressive systems she struggled against and wrote about.

Read the essays of the 2021 winners here.

Read the essays of the 2022 winners here.

Read the essays of the 2023 winners here.


Submissions to the contest reopen February 6, 2024. The prize is open to people who are either currently or formerly incarcerated (in any form of confinement: jail, prison, detention center, electronic monitoring, or other).

The deadline for submissions is May 15, 2024. Prizes will be announced by September 19, 2024.

Essays can be submitted in two ways:

  • They can be emailed to (Feel free to submit your essay either as an attachment or within the body of the email.)
  • They can be mailed to:

Keeley Schenwar Memorial Essay Prize
PO Box 276414
Sacramento, CA, 95827

Essays must be unpublished and unique to this contest; they should not be simultaneously submitted to other publications.

Each writer may submit one essay per year.

If you would like to donate to support the prize program, you can do so here or contact us at about making a gift.