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
11 Pages Posted: 21 Feb 2007
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.
Keywords: Critical Race Theory, Law & Narrative
JEL Classification: K19, K49
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation