Join the Ivy League: Yale University Law Journal Announces Writing Contest for Inmates

The Yale University Law Journal wants to publish essays on prison legal topics written by inmates and is running a contest to do it.

“The contest offers people in prison the chance to share their stories with people who shape the law and to explain how the law affects their lives.” the law journal’s announcement said.

So, are you one of the talented thinkers and writers behind bars in Colorado?

If you are – or if you know someone with a razor-sharp mind behind that razor wire – here’s a chance to get those ideas in front of the public.

And not just any public.

Winning essays will be published in the prestigious Yale Law Journal and read by some of the top law professors, attorneys and judges in the country.  You could shake things up if you win.

Not to mention the fact that the three top writers will get cash prizes if permitted, $250 for first place.

There are strict rules for the contest and a list of essay topics you have to choose from.  I’ve posted the list below. Essays must be in by October 1, 2012.

Here’s how it works: First, to be eligible to even enter the contest, you must have been an inmate in a prison or jail at any point from January 1, 2010 through September 30, 2012.

Next, the announcement said, “We welcome essays of about 1000-5000 words, or roughly 4-20 pages. Please type your submission if possible. If you must write by hand, please be sure your writing is readable. Feel free to work together with others, but your essay should be in your own voice.”

The announcement added,  “Please do not discuss your innocence or guilt or ask for legal assistance with your case. Submissions are not confidential. Whatever you write will not be protected by attorney-client privilege. If you have an attorney, please speak with your attorney before submitting your work.”

And last but not least, “Email your submission to if possible. If you do not have email access, please mail your work to: The Yale Law Journal, ATTN: Prison Law, P.O. Box 208215, New Haven, CT 06520-8215. Please include your name and the name of the institution where you are or were imprisoned, and tell us the best way to reach you now. ”

Please note that mailed entries have to GET THERE, that is, get to the state of Connecticut, by October 1st.

And remember this is a writing contest.  Eloquence matters. So maybe you think you’re not all that smart, just average, say. Are you persuasive? Do people tell you that you have a way with words? Do you have a compelling legal story to tell? Then go for it.

Here’s the list of topics:

  • The law journal wants to see essays addressing ONE of the following questions:
  • What does fair treatment look like in prison?
  • How does your institution deal with inmates who are violent or disruptive? Are people sent to solitary confinement? Is the disciplinary system fair, and does it help to maintain order?
  • Tell us about a notable or surprising experience you’ve had with another person in the legal system-whether a judge, a lawyer, a guard, or anyone else. What did you learn from it?
  • The goals of criminal punishment include retribution (giving people what they deserve), deterrence (discouraging future crimes), and rehabilitation (improving behavior). What purpose, if any, has your time in prison served? Should one of these purposes be emphasized more?
  • Have you ever filed a grievance with jail or prison authorities to complain about conditions? Tell us about it, and explain how the grievance process works. Are grievances effective? How do prison authorities respond to them? How do you feel about federal law’s requirement that prisoners file grievances before suing about prison conditions in court?
  • If you have been released from prison, what challenges did you face in reentering society?
  • How, if at all, do you maintain relationships with your family while in prison? Describe the prison rules that govern how much contact you can have with your family. How has being in prison affected your family relationships?


  • Enter the contest. (Make sure you’re eligible.)
  • Share this notice with loved ones behind bars or recently out.
  • If you’re an attorney or other pertinent professional, give contest information to incarcerated clients who might benefit.
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