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Life Inside

How to Write for The Marshall Project’s Life Inside

Life Inside is a weekly series of first-person essays from people who live or work in the criminal justice system. Here are answers to the questions people ask us most.

What makes a Life Inside essay?

Life Inside essays are 1,000- to 1,400-word nonfiction pieces about personal experiences you’ve had with the criminal justice system. We want slices of life rather than full autobiographies. Focus on telling a good story — one that is vivid, surprising, instructive or interesting to a reader who may not share your frame of reference. Our contributors include people who are currently or formerly incarcerated, people on parole or probation, lawyers, teachers, medical staff, people with loved ones in the system, corrections officers, police, social workers, judges, people who are victims of crime and advocates.

What don’t you publish in Life Inside?

We don’t publish poetry, fiction, letters to the editor, commentaries, pieces under pseudonyms, or visual art without an accompanying essay. In addition, we don’t publish claims of innocence, provide legal help or publicize advocacy campaigns.

How do I send you a Life Inside essay?

Before we tell you where to send your work, we want to let you know this: We try our best to respond to all mail, but we can’t write everyone back. Follow these guidelines:

Where and when are Life Inside essays published?

Life Inside pieces appear on We usually post them on the website on Fridays at 6 a.m. EST. We also email them to newsletter subscribers on Friday afternoons. If we partner with another media outlet, your piece will also appear on their website and/or on their pages. We may also re-publish your piece at a later date. Sign up for the Life Inside newsletter here:

Do you pay writers?

In most cases, we offer a small honorarium of $200 for essays people write.

What does the editing process look like?

If we accept your piece, we make edits to ensure that the writing is engaging and clear. An editor will communicate directly with you or through someone you trust like a relative, friend, teacher or volunteer. We use prison messaging services, email, pre-arranged phone calls and letters.

Do you fact-check the essays?

Yes. A fact-checker may reach out to you for clarification and/or use court records, reliable media reports and input from corrections officials who deal with the news media.

Do I have to use my name?

Yes. We do not publish anonymous essays or fake names.

How do you create the bios at the end of each piece?

We ask our writers to send us two to three lines that describe who they are and what they’ve accomplished. We also ask that they include why they are currently incarcerated if that information is not in the piece.

Why do you publish the reason why people are currently serving time?

We publish the reason why someone is currently incarcerated because, as journalists, we need to be transparent with our readers. We are aware of the criticism of this practice — that it reduces writers to their criminal convictions. But readers can easily obtain this information on corrections websites and news articles anyway. Those sources don’t offer the context that an essay provides.

What if I don’t hear back from you?

We try our best to respond to every submission, but due to the high volume of mail we receive, we can’t guarantee it.