Truthout is proud to announce the winners of the Keeley Schenwar Memorial Essay Prize. We are incredibly grateful for the hundreds of essays we received. It was an honor to read every one of them, and we wish we could have selected many more than two.

Our winners are Emile DeWeaver, for “I Was Thrown in Solitary at 14. My Jailers Added a Day Each Time I Fought Back,” and Pinky Shear, for “A Prison Guard Raped Me and Threatened My Life. Now I Fight for Others’ Lives.”

The Keeley Schenwar Memorial Essay Prize, awarded to two formerly incarcerated people for essays related to imprisonment or policing, is given in memory of Keeley Schenwar (1990-2020), who was a devoted mother, daughter, sister, friend, writer and advocate for incarcerated mothers. The selected essays share some of the spirit in which Keeley Schenwar moved in the world (and wrote her own work), a spirit of empathy, vulnerability and resistance.

Emile DeWeaver’s essay “I Was Thrown in Solitary at 14. My Jailers Added a Day Each Time I Fought Back” is a close snapshot of the author’s incarceration as a young person resisting injustice through whatever means are available to him. DeWeaver’s precise descriptions of the daily horrors to which he was subjected at the age of 14 represent the brutality of a system that tortures children. The spirit in which he fought against that brutality reminds us that wherever people are oppressed, people are also fighting back.

Pinky Shear’s essay “A Prison Guard Raped Me and Threatened My Life. Now I Fight for Others’ Lives” exposes the horrific sexual violence perpetrated by prison authorities, through the lens of the author’s experience of rape. Shear shares how the pain she endured continues to impact her life — but also how she combats the forces that harmed her, through activism. She co-founded Freedom Overground, a TGNCI/ LGBQA+ prisoner support organization, and her essay communicates how you can take action to challenge the prison-industrial complex, even if you only have a few minutes.

Congratulations, Pinky and Emile!

In addition to our two winners, we are giving a special recognition to EJ, a 6-year-old child who wrote about her experience of her father’s incarceration in “I Want to Start School So I Can Learn to Write Letters to My Dad in Prison.” EJ writes that she is looking forward to learning how to write her dad letters — but what she wants more than anything is for him to come home.

Thank you to every single person who entered this contest. Your stories are a powerful force.

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