Chapter

Imagining the Self and Other: Women Narrate Prison Life across Cultures

Lynne Haney and András Tapolcai

in Interrupted Life

Published by University of California Press

Published in print January 2010 | ISBN: 9780520252493
Published online March 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780520944565 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1525/california/9780520252493.003.0037
Imagining the Self and Other: Women Narrate Prison Life across Cultures

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This chapter describes the effects of incarceration in two very different penal contexts: a community-based prison for women in California and a maximum-security facility for women in Hungary. Based on years of conducting creative writing classes in these prisons, the authors of this chapter trace the imprint the environments left on inmates' imaginations. On the one hand, they explore how the institutional scripts available to the U.S. inmates centered on the individual—usually through narratives of addiction and pathology. Their stories focused on the emergence of new selves freed from old pathologies and ways of being. This focus then led the women to rely exclusively on the “I” in their writing and to represent their experiences in purely personal terms. On the other hand, the authors show how the Hungarian inmates rejected references to the self. The authors conclude about the cultural differences—the relation between guilt and redemption—in these women's worldviews.

Keywords: California; Hungary; incarceration; self; creative writing; narratives; pathology; cultural differences; guilt; redemption

Chapter.  4448 words. 

Subjects: Gender and Sexuality

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