The Stock Market
Start Your Own Business
Money for College
Jobs, Jobs, Jobs!
Dollars By Design
Living on a Tight Budget
History of Currency
A Shoplifter's Story
ON2 Money Credits
High School Student, New York
Parts of this article first appeared in
New Youth Communications Magazine.
When I was 12-years-old, I was what you might call a kleptomaniac. Now I'm 17. I have a part-time job as a writer and I'm working towards my goal of becoming a journalist. Giving up my stealing habit was hard, and it took much more than getting arrested to make me stop.
If I had to explain why I stole, I 'd say there were many reasons.
When I was a lot younger, I always got everything I wanted. I was the first grandchild born on both sides of my family, so it was natural that I was adored. Whether I needed a new winter coat, money for school, or a new pair of sneakers, I got it. And because of all that I became spoiled and dependent. Even after I became a teenager I still felt that I deserved to get what I wanted, when I wanted it, no matter what.
WE HIT ROCK BOTTOM
But when I was about 12 years old, my family had some serious financial problems. My grandmother was laid off from her nursing job. My mother was going to school and working part time, and we had to go on public assistance. It was very embarrassing, and I felt like going into seclusion, or disguising myself any time my mother and I went to the grocery store and she'd use food stamps.
It was like we'd hit rock bottom. I knew it wasn't my family's fault--they had to do what they had to do to survive. I could see how depressed my mother and grandmother were over all this, which made me feel even worse. But I was also angry at them and felt they should be ashamed of what was going on. So I still asked them for money, and I didn't want to hear them say no. When they refused, I threw tantrums.
HANGING WITH THE "IN" CROWD
The people I hung out with never seemed short of cash, and this made things even harder for me. Besides that, we used to be called nerds because we were smart. But I didn't like being made fun of. So I finally decided that I'd make sure I got what I wanted my own way. I stopped hanging out with my old friends and started being friends with other kids. You know, the "in" crowd, the ones considered to be mad chill.
These were the so-called friends that introduced me to the dead-end world of stealing. We'd hang out at the malls looking at all the clothes and CDs we'd get if we had the money. I'd watch all these other kids walk out of the store with the things they wanted, while I stood there with just enough money for the bus-ride home.
SO I STARTED TO STEAL
I'd think about what I wanted my life to be like when I became an adult. I had already promised myself that I wasn't going to be poor. I told myself that once I started making money, I'd buy myself a beautiful house, and have a Mercedes profilin' in the driveway. But as I stood there watching those kids, I felt lousy and mad as a bull. That's when my friends and I started to steal. We stole all kinds of things. Shirts, jeans, sneakers, tapes, CDs and Walkmans. One time a girl actually paid me $40 to steal some sneakers for her. Sometimes if we got hungry and had no money we'd go to a store and steal cookie dough, potato chips and whatever else we could get away with. Every time I stole, I felt a little nervous about getting caught. But because I was friends with the "in" crowd, I couldn't show just how scared I really was. I brushed my feelings aside and played off being cool.
JUST A SPECK OF GUILT
WHO'S AFFECTED BY SHOPLIFTERS?
To find out whether shoplifting really hurts anyone, I talked to the manager in a local clothing store.
Norman: Sometimes when people steal from a store they feel like they're not really stealing from anyone, and no one really loses anything. is this true?
Clothing Store Manager: No. When people steal, the prices in the store go up. The company also raises price to hire more workers to police the area or put in new security system. The consumer is the one who gets it in the end.
Norman: Did you ever feel sorry for anyone who was caught shoplifting? Did you ever let someone go?
Clothing Store Manager: No, absolutely not. Sometimes mothers would come in with their children to steal. I'd feel bad because the children would be sitting in the cop car quaking. One time a bunch of teenage girls came in. They looked like typical middle class kids. One stuck an expensive blouse in her bag. When she was caught, she was like, "Please, I've never done this before."
Charges were pressed.
Sometimes I felt a speck of guilt. But not near enough to make me stop. I didn't think that much about the people I was stealing from. Mainly I just figured that since it was a store, I wasn't stealing from anyone. And after I stole, I'd get this big rush. I'd feel superior because no one had caught me. In my head, I'd say to the security guard, "I can't believe you're so stupid! I just put that tape in my pocket right in front of you and you didn't see me!" I felt powerful and free.
Stealing was an escape from my problems at home, and from reality. Because I had to concentrate so hard on not getting caught, I didn't think about any other problems. I felt bad about my life, and the only time I felt a little better was when I was stealing.
GETTING CAUGHT DIDN'T STOP ME
Like any addiction, I wanted that feeling to last. I wanted to feel free and superior all the time. Even getting caught didn't stop me from stealing. One day I was in the mall with a new friend of mine. We decided to go steal some tapes and CDs. We each had one and were walking out of the store when out of nowhere the guard came up to us. Then he told the both of us to empty our pockets. That's when we knew we were caught. He escorted us to the back of the store, told us to sit down and played back the tape where they recorded us stealing. I never felt so scared in my life.
HANDCUFFED AND SCARED
After that they took pictures of us with a Polaroid camera, and made files with our names on them. They placed handcuffs on our wrists and escorted us downstairs on the escalator, which they stopped just for us. When we got to the police station they told us to call our parents. When I asked what happens if we decide not to call them, he said that we would have to go to the detention center until Monday. So I called my mother. After that the police handcuffed us to the seat. When my mother came, she was angry. "What the hell is your problem?" she said to me. But I could tell that more than anything else, she was hurt. I was assigned a probation officer. They thought this would keep me from stealing.
I KEPT STEALING
But the next day was like the rest, and I continued to steal. I was caught two more times, but nothing much happened. Mainly I was just told not to come back to the store. And I kept stealing. But when I was 15, I was sent to live in a group home. One of the reasons I was sent there was because I was stealing. But there were lots of other things going wrong in my life, too. My father was in jail, I was fighting with my mother and other family members all the time, and I was failing in school.
MY LIFE BEGAN TO CHANGE
When I first arrived at the group home, I'd try to steal whenever I got the chance to go out. It didn't matter if it was candy, food, clothes. Anything, as long as I stole something. It was the only thing that made me feel better. But over time, my life began to change at the group home. I started talking to a therapist, getting out some of my anger. And I began to improve my life.
I started writing stories for a teen magazine and getting paid!! I got to talk to lots of people about different experiences and that helped me figure out that I really want to become a journalist.
Eventually I developed a reputation for being smart, and many of the workers at my home were very proud of me. I liked the feeling of doing good things and being recognized for it. And I felt that if I did continue to steal, I'd be a total fake. Plus, I started going back to church.
One Sunday when the reverend was preaching, he spoke of the Ten Commandments. He was talking about "Thou shalt not steal." When I heard that I was really shaken. I had been to church before with my grandmother, but I had never really listened. Now I felt different and I asked God to forgive me.
HARD TO RESIST
But at first it was hard for me to stop because I saw so many things I wanted that I knew I couldn't afford, and I hated that. One side of me would ask, "Why don't you steal that CD!" But the other side would say, "Norman, think of what would happen if you get caught." I'd try to think how I'd hurt my mother all over again and jeopardize my future. And that would make it easier to resist.
After a while I didn't have to use that method anymore because I no longer wanted to steal. Still, in some ways, I haven't changed. I have expensive taste and I'm still a materialistic person. I like to have money in my pocket.
ADDICTED TO WORK
Now I've got a part-time job and when I want money, I earn it. Sometimes I become impatient when I have to wait to buy something, but that's what makes me want to get it more.
Ever since July of 1997 I've been writing for two Manhattan-based papers: "New Youth Communications" and "Foster Care Youth United." I feel great reading my published stories, reaching out to other teens and giving them advice on situations that have occurred in my own life. It's also fun. I got to interview a famous DJ named Wendy Williams and other writers told me that it was a good story. I
Being able to work for the things I want gives me an undescribable feeling of self-respect. The fact that I'm earning an honest living makes me feel so damn good about myself!
Before I was addicted to stealing, now I'm addicted to working. I don't like to ask people for money when I'm more than capable of earning it. I just want to be able to buy myself the best.
But that's not the only
reason I like to have money and nice things. It's also because too many times
I've heard people say I wouldn't amount to anything. I want them to see how
wrong they were. I know that I already have amounted to something. And I no
longer believe that if you don't drive a BMW or own a big house you haven't
succeeded. Still, I've always had this little feeling that I may not make it
in life. And in some ways I feel that if I make a lot of money, everyone will
see they prejudged me. They'll see that I have made it, working, not stealing.
And they'll see that I did it on my own. That
gives me a satisfaction beyond words.