Betty Krawczyk's story

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This Dangerous Place
In this excerpt from her new book, Betty Krawczyk looks back to her childhood to understand the roots of her activism

While imprisoned for Contempt of Court in the spring of 2003, Betty Krawczyk searched for understanding into her own actions, especially her stubbornness and intransigence before the Supreme Court of British Columbia. In this inner search Krawczyk is struck by some of the similarities between herself and her father. In This Dangerous Place Krawczyk takes us back to her childhood home where her father struggled with a ghost he didn't know, refused to acknowledge, and didn't believe existed. Until it was too late.

The story takes place in real time (2003) in Burnaby Correctional Centre for Women and in the flashbacks of Krawczyk's childhood in Louisiana (1940). This Dangerous Place is a true story. The following is an excerpt from the book.

...So I'll tell Mr. Justice Harvey at his point about our environmentalist collective we named Women in the Woods.

"Sir," I begin, "It was around a year and a half ago that I, along with a group of like-minded women, came together and formed a collective we call Women in the Woods.. I would like to read the first paragraphs of our Mission Statement:

"We, Women in the Woods, do not disdain using peaceful civil disobedience as a tool to bring attention to the plight of the public forests of British Columbia. We are aware of the long and honourable history that peaceful civil disobedience has played in the evolution of law in this country and on this continent, We recognize that peaceful civil disobedience, far from being in
opposition to the law, is part and parcel of the law and we, Women in the Woods, declare our right to engage in participatory democracy."

I lay my pen down and get up to stretch. I glance at the clock. Okay, enough about that, I think... The unit seems to have quieted down. God, I would like to just close my eyes and drop on my bunk into a deep, dreamless, restful sleep. But no, I can't. I have to be strong. And stubborn. Even if I am fighting a losing battle with ghosts as Daddy did years ago at Laycott Place.

********************************************************

...we all sat out on the front porch while Daddy talked about needing people to come work at our new place. But alas, the story of Laycott Place had drifted over the swamplands and into the back roads of our old parish and come to rest in Willie and Edna's ears.

"If you can get your brother Gabe to come on Monday with you and Edna, he can drive over and back and I'll give y'all extra for gas," Daddy said confidently holding out his glass for seconds on the iced tea. Edna poured silently. Willie was silent, too.

Then Willie cleared his throat. "I be honest with you, Mista Schiver. I ain't coming to work on that place. Neither Edna nor Gabe neither. Gabe say he ain't coming."

Daddy sat his glass down on the turned over wooden barrel that served as a porch side table with a deliberate flourish.

"Why, Willie, I can't remember you ever refusing to come work for me before this. What's the matter?"

"You knows what the matter is, Mista Schiver, that's why you bees over here to me and Edna. You knows that place you got now is hainted."

"Willie, wherever did you even hear of such a thing?"

"From folks, suh."

"Folks. I see. " Daddy's voice was faintly contemptuous. He knew Willie was talking about coloured folks.

"Well, you know, Willie, sometimes folks can be mighty superstitious," he continued, "and you're a Christian, God fearing man, Willie. You know it's a sin to believe in superstitions. There ain't no such thing as ghosts."
"Yessah."

"The only ghost, Willie, that the Bible allows, is the Holy Ghost. If the Holy Ghost is in our new place now wouldn't that be a blessing?"

"Yessah."
"Then you and Edna come work for me. You know I pay fair."

"Yessah. I do, suh. But me and Edna ain't coming."

Daddy rose to his feet, exasperated. Willie and Edna got up, too.

*********************************************************

...when Doris came back from inside the house she didn't have her baby doll.

"Mama and Daddy are fighting again," she said with a downward pull to her mouth. I turned back to the dollhouse with a sinking feeling in my stomach.

"What are they fighting about?" I asked, putting the finishing touches to the table made of carefully balanced rocks and sticks inside the box.

"About the woman coming to voodoo our house," she answered, sitting down on the grass beside me.

"Watch for the chicken poo," I warned mechanically. "When's the woman coming?"

"Tomorrow. I heard Mama say she'll come when we're in school. Daddy's yelling about it."

"Too bad," I said, sitting back on my haunches to survey my handiwork.

"I'd like to see that."

"Well, I wouldn't," Doris blurted. "I hate this place. I want to move," and she burst into tears.

I stared at her for a moment, surprised. I didn't ordinarily show much physical affection for Doris because she was just my bothersome little sister, and she was spoiled anyway with all of Mama's attentions and huggings. However, she was so distressed I moved close and put my arm around her.

"It's okay," I said. "Stop bawling. Mama and Daddy won't let anything
happen to you."

She wiped at her eyes fiercely, swallowing her sobs. "They just fight all the time. Why can't we just move?"

I stood up and kicked at the cardboard box I had been carefully crafting into a house...Just then Ray Allen and Louise emerged from their chores in the barn and came over.

"What's the matter, Doris?" Louise asked. Doris didn't answer. She just hung her head. Ray Allen looked at me.

"She's upset because Mama and Daddy are fighting again," I said finally. "Over the voodoo woman. She's coming tomorrow."

********************************************************

This is not good. A lockdown so early in the morning means something bad happened during the night. Maybe there was an escape...I see the guard at my door again. She's unlocking it. I tear the earphone off my head and rush over.

"You can come down to the common area with the others," she announces solemnly. "Hank is here. He has something to tell you."

Hank. Hank the Chaplain. Hank the bearer of bad news. I leave my cell, pause on the platform of the second tier and look below. The women are slowly gathering around Hank in front of the bubble. Nobody is talking or laughing. We know. We are awaiting the announcement of death. Who will it be? We want to know, but dread knowing, our limbs are heavy, our eyes are stricken...

This excerpt is from This Dangerous Place by Betty Krawczyk. Copyright © Betty Krawczyk, 2011. Reprinted with permission.

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