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Living 'Off-Stage': The Semiotic Potential of Narrative in Paula Johnson's Inner Lives: Voices of African-American Women in Prison


Emily Houh


University of Cincinnati - College of Law


International Journal for the Semiotics of Law, Vol. 16, p. 317, 2003
University of Cincinnati Public Law Research Paper No. 06-32

Abstract:     
I didn't understand that my life-style was an act. I was on stage until I was almost fifty years old. I was really on stage being an image that somebody else had built me up to be. It wasn't what I really wanted to be, and I learned to come offstage. I'm offstage now. (Johnson, p. 139)

In the above excerpt from Paula Johnson's important new book, Bettie Gibson describes what it means to live as a representation: the Black female criminal. The hopelessness and hopefulness in the voices of the women profiled in Inner Lives exemplify a semiotic response to the racism that permeates the criminal justice and prison systems in the United States. This article asks how, in the telling of their stories and living of their lives, the incarcerated and formerly incarcerated women profiled in the book engage in a working semiotics. The extraordinary thing about the narratives collected by Johnson is that they describe how women who have been placed at the very bottom of the American social consciousness are successfully constructing their own image-repertoires rather than accepting the ones given to them by society, often in the most depressing of settings.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 11

Keywords: Critical Race Theory, Law & Narrative

JEL Classification: K19, K49

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Date posted: February 21, 2007  

Suggested Citation

Houh, Emily, Living 'Off-Stage': The Semiotic Potential of Narrative in Paula Johnson's Inner Lives: Voices of African-American Women in Prison. International Journal for the Semiotics of Law, Vol. 16, p. 317, 2003; University of Cincinnati Public Law Research Paper No. 06-32. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=964203

Contact Information

Emily Houh (Contact Author)
University of Cincinnati - College of Law ( email )
P.O. Box 210040
Cincinnati, OH 45221-0040
United States
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