Free Time: Writers Inside and Out


What is Free Time: Writers Inside and Out?  Free Time is a volunteer program focused on correspondence with writers who are incarcerated, offering support and mentorship, and building relationships one letter at a time. Free Time initially began in 2017 as an outgrowth of the Poetry Center's Art for Justice project


Free Time is part of a suite of programs supported by the Poetry Center under the umbrella of the Richard Shelton Programs for Writers who are Incarcerated.  These efforts are named for the poet and writer Richard Shelton, who helped launch a series of writing workshops in Arizona prisons and co-founded the publication Rain Shadow Review, a literary journal which features the work of current and formerly incarcerated writers, and the Rain Shadow Review Virtual Workshop, a monthly  publication mailed to incarcerated writers unable to attend face-to-face workshops which features award-winning poetry and prose with analyses, craft tips, and a writing prompt.  In addition to the workshops, journal, and monthly virtual workshop, the Poetry Center delivers programs in Tucson-area juvenile detention through its K-12 efforts.  


Core Values of Free Time: Writers Inside and Out: 

We believe in the power of art to promote honest self-reflection, express complex human emotions that we didn’t necessarily know we had, and transform lives.

We believe authentic human contact offered without prejudice encourages personal growth.

We believe that sharing literary techniques and providing feedback of someone else’s writing enhances the ability to hone in on truth and beauty.

Program Details: Free Time is led by teaching artist Gillian Haines and meets at the Poetry Center once a month to discuss program issues, learn about advocacy movements,  to answer specific questions from writing pairs, and to learn more generally about responding to creative work.  There is a remote (Zoom) option for participants not in Tucson or who prefer to participate online.  The Poetry Center sends and receives snail mail on behalf of participants.  At least a one year commitment is required for all Free Time participants.  

Ready to apply? :  Fill out this short application and a member of the program will be in touch.  Volunteers must be 18 years or older.  At this time, we are only able to work with volunteers who reside in the United States and have a domestic mailing address or P.O. Box. 

Questions?  Contact Tyler Meier at or 520-626-5880.


2024 Free Time Writing Contest: for Incarcerated Writers 

The Free Time Contest is open to writers of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry who are incarcerated at the time of submission. 

Three winners will be published—one for each genre (poetry, fiction, and nonfiction)—in the annual print issue of  Rain Shadow Review, which has been publishing the work of current and formerly incarcerated writers since 1989. In addition to publication, winners and runners-up in each respective genre will also receive one-year subscriptions to a range of literary magazines. 

Writers may only submit once in each genre, and are encouraged to send their best work. All submitters to the contest will receive a copy of Rain Shadow Review featuring the winning submissions. 

All entries are considered for publication in Rain Shadow Review.

Entry fee: None

Submission format: Typed or handwritten

contest opens: June 1, 2024

Deadline to submit: August 15, 2024*

*Submissions with a postmark on or before August 15 will be considered; contest submissions with an August 16 postmark or later will not be considered. Submitters should not send their only copy of their work.  If a submitter would like his/her submission returned, please enclose a self-addressed, stamped envelope.

Submissions can be sent to:

Rain Shadow Review
PO Box 85462 
Tucson, AZ 85754-5462

Due to the volume of contest submissions, editorial comment isn’t possible on contest submissions.  If you have questions about the Free Time contest for incarcerated writers, please contact Tyler Meier at or 520-626-5880.