How My Mother Became a Criminal

How My Mother Became a Criminal

It’s official. The police have finally caught up with her. My mother was caught red-handed doing something that the Gwinnett County Police Department had to deal with more than 28,000 times in the past year. Maybe she thought it would never happen to her. Maybe she thought she could talk her way out of it. Maybe she thought she would never get caught.

But, on July 6th, 2015, she was careless. She made a mistake that she may regret for the rest of her life. Gwinnett County Police responded to the criminal activity that took place at my home, while my mother was present. I was out of town when I received the phone call. Here’s how it all happened, in my own words.

Warning: due to graphic nature, the following content may not be suitable for all readers.

Our view of the beach.
Our view of the beach.

I’m walking along the beach. I can feel the soft, white sand beneath my toes. I hear the rush of the waves as they drift over my feet and I smell the salty air. The sun feels hot on my face, my shoulders, and fills me with a sense of peace. I am totally relaxed as I smile at my boyfriend. He squeezes my hand and says, “This is the life.” Yes, yes it is. A beach vacation is one of my favorite things in this life. And, just like every other beach vacation we have taken together, this one is perfect.

After a few hours of collecting seashells, paddle boarding, kayaking, and swimming in the warm gulf waters, we return to our chairs. As I reach for my book in the beach bag, I see my phone tucked into the pocket of my shorts. “I wonder what time it is,” I say to my sweetheart. “Not that I care, really.” I shield my eyes from the sun and look at my phone.

Blissfully unaware, before we got the call.
Blissfully unaware, before we got the call.

1 missed call and 1 voicemail from EMC Security

1 missed call from the Gwinnett County Police Department

6 missed calls and 3 voicemails from my mother

“Oh my God,” I say out loud.

“What?” Albie asks from the chair next to me.

“Our house burned down,” I tell him.

What?” he says, a bit more emphatically than the first time.

She Burned Down the House?

“I have missed calls and voicemails from the security company, the police department, and my mother – in that order. She must have burned down the house.”

“I’m sure she didn’t burn down the house,” Albie reassures me. “She doesn’t even like to cook.”

“Good point,” I realize. My mom, who is watching our house and our two dogs, hates to cook. She wouldn’t be using anything but the microwave and the coffee pot. Unless she put aluminum foil in the microwave, she probably hasn’t set the place on fire.

My mom's usual, laid-back dog-watching approach.
My mom’s usual, laid-back dog-watching approach.

“What did she say?” Albie asks me.

“I don’t know,” I reply, holding the phone in my hand like I’m not sure what to do next.

“Well…why don’t you listen to your voicemail?” he suggests, sweetly.

“Oh, right!” I suddenly return to my senses and press play. First, it’s the security company.

Hello, Ms. Somers, this is EMC Security. The alarm at your home is going off and we’re trying to reach you. Please call us back as soon as possible. 

The time on the call is from almost two hours ago. I look at Albie and say, “It’s the alarm company. See if they called you. Somebody broke in. Oh my God. The dogs.”

Albie digs his phone out of the beach bag. The alarm company, the police department, and my mother have called him, too. Surely some major catastrophe has ensued and we’re out here frolicking on the beach nearly 400 miles away. My mother always warned me of the consequences of being frivolous and carefree; now she was part of the aftermath of my irresponsible decision to go to the beach.

I decided she should be innocent until proven guilty, so I listened to the voicemails on speakerphone so Albie could hear, too.

The first one said: Oh jeez. Karla! I just came in the house and the alarm won’t shut off…hang on, the security company is calling me. I’ll call you back.

Her second voicemail (in a panicked voice): What’s the password for the security company? You left me two pages of instructions about when to feed the dogs and let them in and give them treats but you DIDN’T TELL ME THE PASSWORD FOR THE ALARM. CALL ME BACK!

Her third voicemail (with a cheerful tone): Never mind. The police came and I told them it was a false alarm, and the company reset it so it would stop going off. I’m sure your father did something to it when he left last night that made me set it off this morning. OK. Hope you’re having a good time. How’s the weather? The dogs are fine. The police officer was really nice. His name was John or Jerry, I think. Yeah, that’s it – Officer Jerry. He was so nice. Very friendly. So, everything is fine. OK. Have fun! Love you. Bye!

I look over at Albie. “OK,” he says, raising his eyebrows. “So…want to go back in the water?”

Dad and Friedrich have everything under control.
Dad and Friedrich have everything under control.

We made it through the rest of our beach vacation without incident. No more phone calls from the police department or security company. And, the ones to and from my mom were primarily to see how the dogs were doing without us.

The Official Police Report

About three weeks later, The Letter came. It was from the Gwinnett County Police Department. It was printed on police department letterhead and an official case number had been assigned.

The letter informed me that, “Police officers responded to an alarm activation at [my address]. The officers found no sign of criminal activity and ruled this to be a false alarm.” Whew. That was close. However, “The Alarm Systems Ordinance requires that charges be assessed to false alarm calls.” Busted.

A fee schedule followed this official notification. Fortunately, my “first offense” is complimentary. Isn’t that nice? After that, though, if my mother becomes a repeat offender within the same calendar year, we will be subjected to fines starting at $25.00 and possibly exceeding $500.00 with the issuance of a citation. Of course, I can appeal in writing along with remittance of my fine within 15 days.

Next, and here’s where it really gets good, my mother may register for and attend – are you ready for this? – ALARM AWARENESS SCHOOL. Yes, there really is such a thing. Hard-earned taxpayers’ dollars at work for the greater good of preventing such future criminal activity.

The letter goes on to announce that if you successfully complete Alarm Awareness School, offered by the Crime Prevention Unit, you will be given a credit for a future false alarm.

So, I’m wondering what they actually teach you at this Alarm Awareness School. Clearly, it is not very effective if they have to issue a credit for a future false alarm upon completion of the class. So much for preventing recurring criminal activity.

The dogs reacting to the news that Grandma is facing criminal charges.
The dogs reacting to the news that Grandma is facing criminal charges.

I call my mother to deliver the bad news. “Mom,” I say, “We received a letter from the police department. You’re in trouble.”

“What?” she asks, nonchalantly. “What did I do now?”

“Remember when you set off the alarm a few weeks ago? Well, you have to pay a fine.”

“Are you serious?” she asks me, sounding annoyed. “Officer Jerry told me it was no problem, and he said to call if I needed anything, and now they sent you a fine? For what?”

“Five hundred dollars,” I say into the phone. “And, you have to attend Alarm Awareness School.”

My mother makes noises on the other end of the phone. She is getting really upset now, and I feel bad. I laugh out loud.

“Why are you laughing? Karla? Are you for real, or are you bullshitting me?” I just keep laughing.

“Seriously, did you get a letter from the police department?”

“Yes, Mom. I did. But you don’t have to pay this time. The first one’s free. But you have to go to Alarm Awareness School and learn how to operate my alarm correctly.”

“Right. Tell your father he’s the one that should go. I’m sure it’s his fault it went off. I didn’t have any problems with it before he stopped over.”

I smile to myself and think about how much I love my parents for taking care of our home and our dogs while we were at the beach.

This is the life.

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