It Happened To Me: I Was Caught Shoplifting

What started as a twisted act of vengeance became an addictive high: I was hooked on “outsmarting” everyone.
Publish date:
April 5, 2013
stealing, shoplifting

Montmarte is a hill in the northern section of Paris and the eponymous name of the eighteenth arrondissement. It is home to the Basilica of the Sacré Cœur, the Moulin Rouge, and boasts nearly unparalleled views of the city. It is also the last place I ever shoplifted because it was the first place I was ever caught.

According to KidsHealth, Some people shoplift to see what they can get away with. They may get a rush out of doing something risky that has the potential to get them in serious trouble.

That sums up my shoplifting career. What started as a twisted act of vengeance became an addictive high: I was hooked on “outsmarting” everyone.

The first time I shoplifted was accidental. My dad and I were at the beach. I was seven and quickly became friends with an older girl. She asked if I wanted some candy -- I did. We walked up to the boardwalk and stopped outside of the candy store.

“I don't have any money,” I worriedly confessed.

“They know me. We don't need money. Just act like you have money so the other customers don't catch on, like this,” she showed me a fist. “Then get whatever you want. Just don't be greedy.”

I was nervous but her confidence convinced me. We followed the plan exactly, and I ran back to show my dad the goods.

“Where'd that come from?”

I explained everything.

He knowingly shook his head. “Don't do that again.”

Instantly, I understood: We had stolen that candy.

The next time I shoplifted was quite on purpose. In seventh grade, Lita, Danielle, and Jen founded The Shoplifting Olympics. Over the course of two months, every weekend jaunt through our local malls was an intense sporting exhibition: whomever stole the most and/or best items was declared the “winner.”

After two months, The Shoplifting Olympics came to an abrupt end: Jen's mom found the competition ledger. I couldn't understand why Jen and the others had been so careless: Why would they record everything in such detail? Why keep a record of the crimes at all?!

That day, I vowed to perfect the craft, alone. I passed the next decade honing my skills: between the ages of 13 and 24, I was never once caught or accused.

Though my “career” spanned roughly 11 years, it was not a constant activity: I probably shoplifted on 20 separate occasions, 15 of them before the age of 18. Being underage is no defense of my actions, of course. But once I was staring down the barrel of My Future in college, I realized that a legal adult would have far greater difficulty explaining such actions than would a high-schooler.

The few times I did shoplift after high school, it was when something bad was happening, and I “acted out” in a familiar way.

Several months before my 25th birthday, I spent three weeks traveling alone through parts of England, Germany, and France. I was definitely high on many parts of the experience: I rented a car and drove it on the Audobon (despite only having learned to drive stick shift the month before); I saw Stonehenge, the Eiffel Tower, and traipsed around Oktoberfest in Munich; and I chatted up strangers and rejoiced when they didn't murder me. More than five years later, I still wrap myself in many of those warm memories.

In spite of such fantastic experiences, I was also overcome with homesickness. On my fourth day in London (which was also the fourth day of my trip), I stole a shirt from H&M to wear out to an event at a family friend's club the same night.

Standing in a tiny dressing room, I tried and failed to shake my anxiety about the upcoming evening. I tried on the cute top (that I still “own,” though it's too big for me now) and realized how easy stealing it would be. Momentarily, I considered the nightmare of not only getting caught shoplifting as an adult but getting caught shoplifting as an adult IN A FOREIGN COUNTRY.

Sadly, the impulse to soothe myself proved too great: I rolled the shirt up and stuffed it into my bag. As soon as I crossed the threshold back onto the teeming London streets with my booty, I felt fantastic -- but the feeling did not last.

Ten days later I stood at the bottom of a paved hill that lead straight to the Basilica of the Sacré Cœur. I was exhausted, but I bid my legs of gelatin carry me just a bit farther. While slowly plodding upwards, I noticed a cave-like souvenir shop on my right and decided a brief respite was in order.

Once inside, the store's overstuffed aisles and old-world architecture practically screamed “Rob me!!”; my poor little soul craved a guaranteed boost, by any means necessary. It was fall, so I was wearing layers and a few were conveniently slung over one arm. Squatting in an otherwise empty aisle, I pretended to inspect a sheath of decorative compact mirrors.

“Unsatisfied” with the first batch, I transferred them to my left hand. Slowly and seemingly absent-mindedly, I let the layers fall over them as I picked up another set to inspect with my right hand. I considered the new mirrors briefly, made gestures to indicate they obviously weren't for me, and calmly stood up to continue “shopping.”

Casually but directly, I strolled toward the exit. Just as I felt myself start to float away on a cloud of achievement, a voice addressed me in heavily accented English.

“Do you plan to pay for zose?”

“Excuse me?” I spun around, feigning confusion and slight indignation.

“Een your hand -- you are stealing zose, non?”

She was cool as a concombre, but I was instantly embarrassed and afraid. After taking a moment to gather myself, I looked down at my hand. My eyes widened for effect when they alighted on the items in question.

“You think I wanna steal THESE?!”

I looked around at the other customers, shamefully confirming that I was the only dark-skinned person in sight -- not something I had done before, nor have I done since.

“Why are you asking me and none of the other shoppers?!”

The shopkeeper watched me knowingly but silently as I set the mirrors down on the nearest counter and stomped off toward the door.

“Nice to know some things are the same no matter what part of the world you're in!!”

Once I was out of sight, I speedwalked up the hill and didn't stop until I reached the top. There, I had a seat and caught my breath while surveying the whole of Paris below.

As I said above, I have not shoplifted once in the last five years. I can also say, unequivocally, that I never will again: I'm simply not a person who does that type of thing anymore.

I will always be remorseful about my shoplifting past, but at this point in my life, I face my issues head-on and am a better person for that.

What kind of person? One that doesn't shoplift but more importantly, one that loves herself. I love myself not in spite of my failings, but because I learn from them and choose not to repeat them.