TruthoutThe winners of the Keeley Schenwar II are proudly announced Memorial Essay Prize. We were astonished by the response and are grateful to everyone who submitted essays. We regret that only two essays were selected. Each essay was original and moved in its own way.
The 2022 winners are Kwaneta Harris, for “Working in Prison Fields Didn’t “Correct” Me, It Revealed the System’s Brutality,” and Colette Payne, for “I Stole to Feed My Family and Was Incarcerated. We Need Resources, Not Prisons.”
The Keeley Schenwar MemorialThe Essay Prize is awarded annually to two formerly or currently imprisoned people for essays about imprisonment or police. It is in memory Keeley Schenwar (1990-202020), a mother, sister and friend, who was a dedicated mother, daughter, sister and writer, and advocate for incarcerated women. The essays chosen each year reflect the spirit in which Keeley Scheenwar moved through the world (and wrote her own works), a spirit that embodies empathy, vulnerability, and resistance. Each winner receives $3,000, and publication in Truthout.
Kwaneta Harris’s essay, “Working in Prison Fields Didn’t ‘Correct’ Me, It Revealed the System’s Brutality,” zooms in on the experience of working in the fields — picking okra and potatoes under the hot sun and the racist, abusive tyranny of guards on horseback — and connects it with the everyday violence that pervades prison life. While Harris depicts the legacy of slavery in present-day incarceration, she reveals how it’s interlaced with state-sanctioned gender-based violence. Through a detailed narrative, she shows that prison is “a system that encompasses the entire range of violence.”
Colette Payne’s essay, “I Stole to Feed My Family and Was Incarcerated. We Need Resources, Not Prisons,” exposes the cycle of poverty that fuels imprisonment. Payne relates her childhood with precision and heart. It was full of love, but also saw hunger and homelessness. She shares how at 14, she shoplifted to support her family — and how this was a courageous act of love,which was punished by imprisonment, followed by addiction, followed by more imprisonment. Payne now works to “dismantle punitive systems … encouraging all Black and Brown girls to share their truths and proclaim: Poverty no more.”
Congratulations, Kwaneta und Colette!
We want to thank everyone who participated in this contest. We are humbled to have had the opportunity to read all of your stories.