My comfort zone lost its sense of peace –

May 26, 2009 | By | 8 Replies More

As was alluded to in a recent comment from Erich, my house was burglarized a couple of weeks ago. I’d enjoyed one of those rare, delightfully spontaneous evenings; after a dance recital for my daughter, I ran into a date I hadn’t seen in awhile who invited me to a club to listen to music. Said daughter and her sister were off to their dad’s for the weekend, so I was free to stay out. We had a lovely time and I headed home around 11:15.mindy-300-reward-yellow-cropped-lo-res

As I turned my key in the front lock and opened the door, I saw movement. I looked up just in time to see a kid run out of my bedroom, glance back at me then run down the hall toward the kitchen, away from me. In that moment, I snapped. Instead of backing out the door to safety and calling 911, I barreled straight toward him, screaming at the top of my lungs. Screaming at him to get the $%#^ out of my house – him AND his com-padre, whom I heard running down the back stairs. They both ran out the back door, one crossing the alley and running between the houses, and one running down the alley. I screamed again, ran back to my car and raced around the block hoping to spot one or both of them. No luck. I was sobbing with rage; I could not believe this had happened – again.  I called 911.

See, a year and a half ago, someone broke into my SUV and stole my purse.  I know, I know – stupid me for having left it in the car – but I was going in the house for a mere 10 or 15 minutes before I headed to school for a class.  Two nights later, the car was gone – started, apparently, with the extra set of car keys my daughter had thrown into the glove box a few days earlier, as she put them out of plain sight while we ran errands.  Great idea, except I forgot to take them back into the house.  So I filed a police report, got a rental, and with the insurance money bought myself a used Honda.   Great car, and since gas prices were nearing $4 per gallon at that point, I decided the joke was on the thieves.

A ‘funny’ aside – the very same day the insurance company called me to say that they were sending the check (six weeks after the theft), I got a call from a police officer. He wanted to let me know they’d found the car.  By then, I didn’t WANT the car – I had my new, more efficient one.  Since insurance had already settled, their holding company would get the car.  I asked the officer how they found it, and he told me they pulled it over for something else and when they ran the VIN, they got a hit. “OK,” I said. “Where is it now, how should the insurance company get it?”

“It’s being taken to the city tow lot. But let your insurance company know that it has no wheels.”   Really?  Umm, didn’t you just say you’d pulled it over?   Obviously, he wasn’t comfortable admitting that an SUV sitting wheel-less on a street hadn’t caught anyone’s attention over those last six weeks.  I’m hoping, however, that he’s not promoted to undercover detective anytime soon, as he’s not a particularly effective liar.

Fast forward a couple of months. We arrived home one evening around 9 – me, my daughters and the Chinese graduate student who rented a room from us.   As I opened the front door that night, we were met not with the rush of warm air we expected, but with cold, just as cold as outside.  We hurried in to find the window over the kitchen sink wide open, the screen bent out to the side.  We frantically called 911 and started looking around – most of my jewelry was gone, my daughters’ laptops were both gone, and so was the grad student’s.  She lost everything with hers – all her schoolwork and even more importantly, all her photos from home.   She was heartbroken, as was I.  For her, for my girls who were now scared to be in their own house, and for myself, feeling violated and guilty at the same time because I was the one who had cleaned the window and failed to lock it.  The police came but left us with little hope of getting anything back.   I made a homeowner’s claim, and with the money replaced the laptops.   The graduate student had to move out, though, as her parents became worried for her safety.   I couldn’t blame them, really, but losing that income hurt significantly; I was a student as well, and those stipends don’t go very far.  Mostly, we just missed her.

That was about a year ago.  Less than year before that, I’d been held up, at gunpoint, on the sidewalk in front of the house.  I got out of the car one evening after class, slung my backpack over my shoulder and started toward my steps, when a kid walking toward me in a hoodie stopped, pointed a gun at me and told me to give him all my money.  I froze.  My brain gaped, a cavern of disbelief, no real thoughts filling the void those first seconds – only that this could not possibly be happening.  Then for some weird reason, I started talking to him.  I didn’t snap that first time, no. I held his gaze – he was so young and his hands were shaking.  He didn’t want to be there any more than I did.  I told him I had no money.  A blatant lie, but the cash I did have was ALL I had, and I wasn’t about to give it away.  I know, I know, he had a GUN.  Looking back, I realize I acted foolishly – but the thing is, it worked.  I asked him to please not do this.  I told him my little girls were both in the house, I asked him if he wanted them to see him shoot me?  “Don’t do it,” I sobbed.  “I know you don’t want to do this. Please just let me go in to my daughters.”   He hesitated, then told me to get the hell out of there.  He didn’t have to tell me twice.  I ran up the steps as he ran down the sidewalk.  I called 911 and told them what had happened and that as he ran off, I saw a white van parked down the street hit its lights.   Later that week, a white van full of weapons was stopped several blocks away.  I’d been the third hold-up call that night.   I recognized the kid, but only from inside a hood, no idea if he had hair or not, braids? Dreads? I couldn’t tell.  Not good enough to ID him, but at least one small batch of weapons were off the street.

So on this recent Friday, when I came in and realized someone was victimizing us for the fourth time in less than three years, my rage simply exploded. I felt nothing but pure, unadulterated anger.   I don’t think I’d have run AT a burglar had he not been running away from me, and had it not been clear that he was a very young kid, but still, it was probably stupid.   The police actually chuckled about it, saying that’s not typically how unarmed homeowners respond . . . then warned me never to do it again. Well, no.  Because I’m not going to get burgled again. The officers were kind and thorough; the younger one told me his mother lived in the next block, and this kind of juvenile crime really upset him. They checked everywhere – and yes, it is disconcerting, at best, to watch a police officer open your basement door with a pistol drawn. They examined the broken dining room window through which the thieves had entered – not my fault, this time. They even helped me look for one of our cats, who I feared had escaped in terror. While calling for her, one of the officers waved his flashlight under the deck. “Oh, man! You gotta see this,” he exclaimed. I didn’t want to see what I was certain was a dead body. But he laughed, so we looked, and no, it wasn’t a body. Just an ugly case of possum porn action going on in my backyard. Insult, as it were, had been heaped on top of injury.

The evidence tech came, a kind woman who chatted with me for the nearly two hours she scoured the house for possible fingerprints, sprinkling graphite dust, brushing, taping, collecting. We talked about how difficult it was, in her job, not to stereotype people, and how hard it can be to constantly deal with the lowest 10% on the humanity scale. She seemed to consciously fight off the hardening of her soul, not wanting to lose her own humanity through her job. She’d lost her boyfriend, a fellow officer, to a high-speed pursuit crash, and was still grappling with how the stupidity of a carjacking thug rippled tragically across so many innocent and unsuspecting lives.

She confirmed what the other cops had said – that most likely, these kids had been “hired” by older hoods, men the boys wanted to impress. These older guys know that juveniles will get off with a proverbial slap on the wrist, so they pay them a little to steal for them. The boys get a little cash and build up their “street cred.” Great.

The next morning, Erich galloped over on his white stallion. Actually, his wife had come first, just to sit and commiserate and let me vent my frustrations and my heartbreak over losing my own laptop this time. An untold number of photos and videos of my daughters, and literally hundreds of pages of my own writing, let alone the writing I was doing for work. Gone, all of it. On a beat-up Macbook that kept plugging along. Back it up? Yeah, I know, I’ll get to that one of these days . . . ::::::::::::::sigh:::::::::::::

Erich came to my rescue not with shining armor and a sword, but with plywood, a drill, big screws and his daughters to assist. They boarded up my window while I cleaned up the broken glass inside and outside the house. We got the screen back on and loaded the broken window in my trunk; when I can afford it, I will get the glass replaced. And Erich called his alarm guy, ordered one for my house and paid to have it installed. Normally, I would not share something like that, but I want the likes of Karl and John and MARKML et al to understand what a kind, generous and honorable man my neighborhood atheist is. I didn’t ask for this – he just offered. He cared enough about me and my daughters to do this thing for us, far and above what anyone would have expected. I will pay the monthly monitoring fee and repay him when I can, and after a couple of days of sharing my space with workmen, we are protected.

I’ve lived in this neighborhood since 1992. A mostly lovely, historic neighborhood, with gorgeous rehabs and great old trees. Neighbors who know and care about each other and a vibrant diversity of race and culture. As is typical of urban neighborhoods, though, we also have those smatterings of unkempt rental property. And into some of those, seeps the culture that breeds the street thugs. It festers and, unfortunately, spills over onto the rest of us. We’ve had a couple of car windows shattered in the past. We’ve seen plenty of flashing lights and heard plenty of sirens. But not until after my divorce, when this single white mom bought a smaller house on a block that is more rented than owned, did the trouble meter ratchet up stupidly high. One of the neighbor boys told me, when I asked him if he’d heard anything about my laptops, that he was sure I was targeted because I was white. “Why?” I asked. “Do they hate me just for that?”

“Nah,” he tells me. “They just think ’cause you white, you got money.” Right. Me, who got laid off almost three months ago. From a non-profit, where I was barely keeping my financial head above water. Me, who just incurred two more years of student loans and who sunk all of her savings into this house to keep her kids in their familiar neighborhood, a house which has, of course, plummeted in value since I bought it. Me, who works part-time only and still can’t find a “real” job. But I’m white. So obviously, I’m rich.

I did point out to this kid that their philosophy is as racist as if I assumed he was one of the burglars because he’s black. He agreed. We shook our heads, silently acknowledging the fruitlessness of such thinking. And at a mutual loss as to what to do about it.

The story doesn’t end there.  The fellow across the street asked me how I was doing that morning, and when I told him, he appeared visibly shaken and terribly angry. He looks out for us, and was furious that someone would break into my house. He shook his head, and promised to put out some feelers about a laptop. He has connections he can use, I imagine. His grown kids know people.

Erich insisted I put up signs offering a reward for my laptop, so we walked around the block posting them on trees. And just when my frustration with the culture from which these punk-thugs are born nearly bubbled over, I got a phone call from my neighbor. A couple with a baby lives in the upstairs flat next to my house. They’ve always been friendly to us, but culturally, they live closer to the burglars than to me. She works at a fast food place, he works on their old car during the day and maintenance somewhere at night. No higher education, no fast track – but good people.

He called to say that he’d seen my sign and that he’d received a phone call from his neighbors on the other side. A friend of the son wanted to know if he needed a laptop, as he just happened to have a couple to sell. Now, of course, when he got the phone call, he didn’t know mine had been stolen, so he just said no, thanks and never saw them. But he told me he knew these kids were trouble. I thanked him and relayed the message to the detective. About a half hour later, as my daughter and I worked in our backyard, two kids came out of that flat on the far side, and headed out the back and across the alley. The very same two kids who’d run from my house two nights before. I called 911, again. This time, they were not getting away.

We drove around the block to ID them after the police cuffed the boys. We sat nearby and listened to their mothers insist that their boys had never done anything wrong, that they never even crossed the alley. We listened to them recite birthdates – one of them is barely 13. Later that day, our block captain called to say that she’d seen a kid running out of the alley around 11:30 Friday night, with what appeared to be a laptop. She offered to go on the record, and promised a block meeting to discuss how we can stay safe.

The court date is set for June 9th; my subpoena came on Saturday. I will testify. My daughters will see me stand up for us, and they will see that actions have consequences. I am grateful that even though these boys could have caused the dormant-but-present-since-childhood racism in me to rise back to the surface, it did not – because every neighbor who tried to help, who jumped up indignantly on my behalf – every one of them, save one, was also black. The color of the skin means nothing, the income level means nothing. But a sense of right and wrong, instilled by someone in a person’s heart, means the world, for better or for worse.

What I really want is to talk to both of these boys. Sit down and make them look me in the eye while I recount for them how hard they’ve made the last few weeks. How “not rich” I am, and how unrealistic they are to assume so just because I’m white.

I realized, though, that in a way, even though I’m as cash-poor as they come, I am rich. I have resources these boys can’t imagine, because I have an education. I have friends with educations, the people I spend my time with have jobs and houses and character. They can ride up on white horses and save my day, and if no one does, I could figure something out. I have friends who rush in to take me for coffee and remind me that not only will things get better, I must remember all that I have, compared to the little I lost. Knowing all of that, and knowing how many people I can count on in my life, gives me the strength to believe that they are exactly right.


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Category: American Culture, Bigotry, Communication, Community, Culture, Education, Friendships/relationships, Good and Evil, ignorance, law and order, Saint Louis, Uncategorized

About the Author ()

I am a writer and communication professional in St. Louis, Missouri, a crafter of jewelry, a disorganized optimist and most importantly, the adoptive mom of two China-born daughters.

Comments (8)

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  1. Dan Klarmann says:

    A moving account of such a streak of bad luck.

    I call it "luck" because I have lived here in the city for 23 years, but have only been burglarized once. It was in the wee hours of New Year's day, 1994. They neatly unhooked the VCR, politely stacked the tapes on the floor, and ran off with that, my Minolta SLR, and an Aiwa boom box. Back then, computers were too hard to fence.

    One broken pane in the basement door was the only physical damage. No one bothered with fingerprints or such. Just a police report. We were one of the first 100 reports of the year at 2 a.m.

    Our cars have also been broken into a couple of times. But what's a $300 car window when a $20 pair of binoculars (retail, maybe $2 eBay/fence) was sitting on the seat? I also feel that driving an un-cool 5-speed is a better deterrent to car theft than The Club.

    It took a couple of years to feel secure. Meanwhile, I set up dusk-to-dawn (now compact fluorescent) floodlights in the breezeways, and a motion sensor light over the back yard. I figure the annual cost of the electricity for these is under a buck. (1/3 day * 365 * 2 bulbs * 23watts * 0.07 $/kwh * .001 w/kw = $0.39). The bulbs last only 2 or 3 years out in the weather, so that adds about $3/year.

    • Erich Vieth says:

      Ergo, Mindy Carney, her two kids, their dog, two cats, bird (and I must be forgetting someone) should move in with Dan Klarman. Dan, I'd bet Mindy would even be willing to split your electric bill.

  2. Mindy Carney says:

    Hmmmm. I wonder how Dan's wife would feel about that?

  3. Dan Klarmann says:

    Given the "Gambler's fallacy" I'm due for trouble with miscreants, whereas Mindy should be good for a while.

    Fortunately for my personal peace of mind, I'm not innumerate.

  4. Erika Price says:

    Mindy: The heap of shit that you have endured in recent months is truly disheartening. I find a small bit of solace in the contemplation you have drawn from these moments as well as the instances of neighborly goodwill, but my prevailing emotion in reading this post is rage. We live in such a chaotic and unjust world- why must you experience such misfortune?? But of course there is no reason.

    Your boldness also really impresses me. Perhaps in some instances, staring your assailant down (or running him off) is actually the best choice. Either way, your behavior shows incredible strength and resilience.

    Columbus is a surprisingly crime-ridden city. It leads the nation in per-capita unsolved murders. Soon more detectives will be laid off as a result of budget cuts, which will make things far worse. In the cushy, refurbished campus area, a young man was shot point-blank at 2pm on a sunny Sunday. A young lady was robbed at gunpoint. A couple was raped. A man broke into a series of women's homes in the early morning twilight and molested them. A group of college boys were tied up and robbed in their campus-area house. Someone vandalized all the saturn l-series cars on my street, including mine. Someone broke into my roommate's car and stole her electronics. Our minor inconveniences are not at all the same, but they represent a related problem.

    We are all so powerless to prevent these things. We can move to a better area, we can buy weapons, we can fund the police, and we can be ceaselessly paranoid, but we can't ever stop danger and misfortune from arriving. My bias has always been to focus on the aftermath, what we can influence, and try not to live in prejudice or fear before something terrible happens. Your response to a constant onslaught of crime, Mindy, is an inspiring how-to of how to cope realistically to a horrible aftermath. I do hope your luck turns.

  5. Mindy Carney says:

    Aw, Erika, thank you – your comments mean a great deal. There are days when I think it would be funny if it weren't so, as you say, disheartening. Disheartening because it never goes away – if it's not happening to me, it's happening to a neighbor, a colleague, a fellow blogger, a friend. My most fervent wish right now is to come up with a brilliant and workable plan to address the underlying cause of it all – the kids who have absolutely no sense of self-worth whatsoever, and therefore live without fear of consequences, including death. They don't expect to live long, they don't believe, underneath all the bravado, that human life is worth very much at all.

  6. Wow, that's a really crazy and riveting story. The trauma of this whole experience must just be stomach wrenching. Did you ever get your laptop back? It's crazy how one group of cops 'pulled over' your car with no wheels, and the other was dusting for fingerprints and really making an effort. I guess the uniform doesn't make the cop.

    I've never been to your blog before. Maybe it's just the personal intensity you have over these incidents, but from this I think you're a really great writer. I have some triggers set up that help me find stories like yours. In an attempt to get away from the rat race I recently started up a site to review security lighting, and decided the best way to advertise was to find posts like yours and suggest ideas or products to help prevent this kind of thing from happening in the future. I hope you can find a way to feel safe without losing too much freedom or faith in humanity.

    There is a security light that has a built in digital still/video camera hidden in it. It works night and day and records onto a removable camera card. For those of us who don't have friendly neighborhood atheists, it is a lot cheaper than a security system. The motion light will likely deter the thieves, but if it doesn't you have video evidence of the bastards.

  7. Erich Vieth says:

    Mindy: Thank you for your kind words in this post, but I'm sure that you've come to the rescue of hundreds of others. What decent person hasn't, regardless of the way we might justify why we sometime step in and do something helpful?

    Walking around hanging up yellow signs was a wonderful moment for me. We met many of your neighbors, and we could see the knitting of the social fabric in action, catalyzed by your most recent unfortunate experience. I'm so glad that the positive consequence was your takeaway message from this experience.

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