Sep 18, 2023 - News

Incarcerated Florida woman wins writing prize

Writer Catherine LaFleur. Image: Robbie Pollock; Courtesy of PEN America

Catherine LaFleur, a writer incarcerated at the Homestead Correctional Center for women, was recently named the first winner of a new award from literary nonprofit PEN America.

What's happening: LaFleur won the inaugural Bell Chevigny Prize, which honors an incarcerated woman writer as part of the 2023 Prison Writing Contest.

  • Her winning nonfiction-memoir piece, "Denouement," explores how prisons can silence and endanger inmates.
  • One line — "Cheryl Weimar is not dead" — is repeated throughout the piece, referencing the woman who was left with a broken neck and paralyzed from an alleged 2019 beating by prison guards in Ocala. The guards were never criminally charged.

What they're saying: "The memoir moves slowly and methodically, as if the author is burdened with something heavy — as if she, herself, carries the carceral system's guilt on her back," PEN said in the announcement.

The bottom line: LaFleur, who was sentenced to life without parole in 2002 in the shooting death of her husband, will be awarded a monetary prize and have her work published in PEN America's Sixth Annual Prison Writing Awards Anthology.

  • She also holds a two-year position as a prison poet laureate and has said that poetry saved her when she was kept in solitary confinement for 480 days.

Of note: PEN America's Prison and Justice Writing program pairs incarcerated writers with outside writing mentors.


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