I hope my parents aren’t reading this — because I have something to confess. I was a childhood shoplifter. It started off innocently enough, when I was 13. A neighborhood friend dared: “Go into the local health food store and steal a stick of incense.” Always game, I replied, “Done!” I came out with three sticks of incense and a burner to prove how tough I was. What a rush!
It progressed when I made a new friend at school, Amber. She was smart, funny, wore awesome vintage clothes, drove a BMW, listened to Jane’s Addiction, was a talented painter, and a professional shoplifter. One weekend, we went to the mall. As we were walking through the accessories department at Dillards, she grabbed my arm. “Watch this,” she said and jimmied a sensor off a pair of Ray-Bans. I thought she was the bomb. “Eff consumerism,” she chuckled as we made a stealthy getaway. I lifted a pair of socks on our way out. I knew girls at school who stole because their families had no money and they wanted a new pair of kicks, but Amber was different. Her family was rich. My family wasn’t loaded, but I wanted for nothing. Why would either of us steal? I justified it by telling myself it was for the thrill, the rebellion, the drama.
When Amber invited me on a trip to Disneyland when I was 15, I didn’t go with criminal intent. We were too old to get the rush Pirates of the Caribbean once inspired, so the trip became a crime spree. I was a novice, and Amber was my shoplifting guru. “Disneyland is the best place to steal from,” she informed me. “No cameras. Besides the sh*t is soo overpriced.” “Totally,” I said, as I lifted astronaut food from Tomorrowland and put it under my flannel shirt. Next, there was a Winnie the Pooh necklace from Toontown. Then, a Minnie Mouse change purse from Adventureland. By the time I left the happiest place on earth, I felt nauseous and unhappy, and not from eating bad pizza and riding Space Mountain six times. It was because I knew what I had done was wrong. I didn’t need to get caught or be punished to understand the consequences of my actions. When I got home, I threw all the Disney loot in the trash, ditched Amber as a friend, and never stole anything again.
I’ve spent some time trying to understand why I shoplifted. I’ve come to think of it a sort of a right of passage, a moment to test out what’s right and wrong when no one’s looking, to be your own moral compass. And it turns out I’m right. A professor at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine says that childhood theft is not only common but expected. The good news? Stealing is not a predictor of future criminal behavior. Phew.
Read on for more confessions from childhood shoplifters who went on to become upstanding citizens:
“My sister and I used to go to K-mart of all places, and head to the underwear section. We’d pick up tons of bras and pair of underwear, then go to the dressing room to ‘try everything on.’ We’d slip on a few pairs over our actual underwear, put our clothes back on, and then make a big production about how nothing fit and slam the stuff we didn’t want on the counter. We’d walk out of there with like 4 bras on each, and maybe 6 or so pairs of underwear. Classy, right?”
“I used to shoplift all the time, mostly from preteen stores like Limited Too. One day, after a full day of stealing cheap necklaces and low-cut shirts, my BFF and I were feeling super invincible. We went into the grocery store with my Dad and, while he was buying stuff for dinner, proceeded into the beauty aisle and overturned bottles so they spilled all over the place. We unscrewed the caps of mouthwashes, shampoo bottles etc and flipped them over so they spilled all over the stuff on the shelves beneath. We ran around laughing and having ourselves a grand old time until the manager of the store came out, took us into a back room and showed us a video of our antics. We had to pay for everything and my Dad was furious. That was the end of it for me.”
“Once I stole a 40 oz from a bodega when I was 15 in an attempt to be ‘punk rock,’ despite having asthma and going to private school.”
“I used to rip the extra buttons packages off of clothes in department stores. My mom would drag me to JC Penney’s for hours and I would walk the halls and grab the button packets and stick them in my pocket. I think that I reassured myself it wasn’t really stealing because they were extra, kind of like a free bonus with the clothes. I wasn’t stealing the clothes, after all, just the buttons. I had a shoebox at home where I stored my button-booty. Never got caught for this one, but still feel sufficiently lame about it.”
How about you? Are you a reformed childhood shoplifter? Share your story in the comments.