Got Caught Stealing


Haha. Not really. I never got caught.

You know how you can be in a long term relationships and after decades you are positive you’ve told all your stories. Then, you find this deep well of stories they hadn’t heard?

This happened Friday night.

Randy is aware of my childhood. He understands my childhood was difficult, sad, and is when my perpetual stomach ache began. He knew I was guilty of occasional shoplifting when I was a kid, but he didn’t really know the stories.

Randy was fascinated Friday night when I told him of my criminal past. He wanted me to write these stories down, but he wanted me to distance myself from the crimes. Attribute them to an imaginary friend.

Fuck that. I haven’t been good at too many things in my life. It turns out that shoplifting was a natural talent.

I’m not saying that we should celebrate criminal behavior.

I’m just saying that I’ve spent my entire life running myself down and while shoplifting is wrong, I also want to give my 11 year old self kudos for being brazen. I wish I had her brazenness now. Not for shoplifting. I would use it for dealing with rude customer service people and performance reviews at work. Besides, this all happened over 40 years ago. Which is weird to me as I don’t feel like I could possibly be old enough to have committed crimes over 40 years ago.

I wasn’t a feral child, but I was close.

There were kids I ran with who were completely feral. Mostly, they came from the Whalen family. The Whalen’s were fearless, scary, and without a single boundary. I also had friends who lived in subdivisions and had rec rooms. I could slide in and out of either group.

I learned something from the feral kids. They never had money, but they always had candy and got caught stealingsoda. When they wanted candy or soda, they would steal it. I was not a thief then, except for once and that was because these kids made me steal. I had a choice between stealing a coke or getting my ass beat. I stole the coke.

It wasn’t until we moved away from my neighborhood that I honed my talent.

We moved from the neighborhood I grew up in between 5th and 6th grade. I went from an urban setting to a huge suburban apartment complex.

We were poor in the city. It was worse in the apartment. I went to public school after a Catholic school career. There weren’t uniforms that at least gave the appearance we were from the same economic backgrounds.

My mother made my clothes. I had never owned a pair of blue jeans.

That shit didn’t fly at public school. Homemade clothes? Yeah, wearing homemade clothes to Ockerman elementary was like waving a red flag in front of a bull. Except the flag was my clothes and the bull was the mean girls.

That was also the year, I learned about “free lunch”. We qualified for free lunches. If you got a free lunch, then your lunch ticket was brightly colored. Easily identifiable by the other students. Homemade clothes + free lunch = no friends.

I don’t have fond memories of Catholic school, but public school wasn’t much better.

Especially, that first year. It was jarring and unsettling and I didn’t have the right clothes.

Then, I remembered the lesson the Whalen’s taught me.

I was a tiny child. When we moved, my mother took me to the public school to register. The woman assumed I was starting the second grade, not the sixth grade.

People didn’t give me a second glance in stores, I was just a little girl.

I upgraded my wardrobe with little difficulty. My dad would never notice because he was a narcissistic douche hammer who never noticed anything if it wasn’t about him. My mother? I just had to tell her that a friend gave me the clothes. I don’t think she believed me, but it was easier to just believe me.

That first year, I stole a few items of clothing, enough to get through the school year mostly unnoticed. I stuck to candy and magazines. I never missed an issue of Mad or Tiger Beat and I never paid for them.

There was one glorious exception to the candy and magazines.

I had a friend named Mona. Mona and I worked the convenience stores together. One person would go to the counter and ask a question to distract the clerk and the other person would load up. We found that a made up question from our mom worked like a charm. Something like “My mom wants to know if you have 4 cartons of Kools because last time she tried to buy 4 cartons, you didn’t have that many.” The clerk would check the stock and there was the brief window. Knocking something over on the counter was a good strategy as well.

Anyway, Mona and I pulled off a major heist at Rink’s department store. If you don’t remember Rink’s, just think Big Lots only Big Lots is more fancy.

There was a reason for this heist. We had to host a party.

The Abney’s lived in the apartment above Mona’s. Ricky Abney was our age. He had a blue eye and a green eye. Ricky had an older sister, Kathy. Kathy was 16 and the coolest girl I had ever met. Kathy was also pregnant.

Mona and I knew that Kathy and her family were like our families. There wasn’t money for extras.

We had a baby shower for Kathy. We held the shower in the stairwell between Mona’s and Kathy’s apartment.

This was a proper baby shower, you guys. Well, as proper as one could be given by two eleven year old girls who had stolen everything for the shower.

It took a few days. We stole baby shower decorations, baby gifts, and snacks. We found a place in the woods to hide our discount department store booty because no way either of us could explain that shit to our parents.

We taped balloons to the handrails and hung streamers from the light fixture. Snacks were an assortment of seventies candy, including blow pops. We always had blow pops.

Kathy was touched. I remember that part. She examined every gift, which if I recall, was an outfit, some washcloths and a rattle. That might not be exact, but it’s close. I don’t remember if she had a boy or a girl. I don’t remember ever even seeing the baby, although I know I must have. I remember that Kathy’s boyfriend was killed in a car accident before her baby was born. I remember that part. Funny, that baby, is 43 years old now.

Okay, so I’ll stop here. This pretty much covered the novice shoplifting year. We moved two more times by the time I was 13. I was a grizzled shoplifting veteran by age 13. That was also the year I hung it up for good.

I’ll tell you that part next time because this is already ridiculously long.




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  • last monday, memorial day, i got a call from a cousin telling me i have a half sister, she’s 62, i’m 56. my mom left her at an orphanage in 1954. she stayed there for years, finally adopted, by 2 alcoholics, years of abuse/neglect. my childhood in comparison was heaven though i wouldn’t have said so 8 days ago. i have had a week of contact now with her daughter, who started the search, sister is processing and waiting for DNA confirmation. point being, the sharing of stories of “misspent” youth and years that cannot be recovered. i love your posts and most times they touch real close to home. thank you for the humour, heart and insight.

    • My husband was adopted, and has gradually been reconnecting with remnants of his birth family. It can be a magical thing, hope it is for you. Even if not, so much can be learned. Good luck!

    • I just found my entire family about 6 months ago. My biological mother had 3 children then me, thank goodness she found a home for me, then she married my bio father and had 4 more children. It’s all so weird I cannot figure it all out or where I stand in it all. And it came from a DNA test also

  • An old roommate of mine back in the 80’s was quite a shoplifter. We were friends from school, but I had no idea until we lived together and while we were on a pretty tight budget, she’d show up with clothes and jewelry all the time. But, nothing topped the slab of steak she shoved down her pants at the grocery store. She would have gotten away with it too if she hadn’t taken a candy bar near the cash register – they saw her take the candy bar and soon discovered the steak in her pants. Good golly miss molly talk about brazen! She was a character 🙂

  • I think I tried shoplifting once. Just once. Shoulda grabbed a single piece of candy instead of the box of Chiclets. Coulda gotten rid of the evidence quicker. Mommy saw me chewing gum and questioned where I’d gotten it, since I’d been with her for the last coupla hours, I guess. I had no alibi. I had to go get my allowance so she could walk me back to the grocery store to pay for my stolen gum and apologize to the checker for having committed my heinous crime.

    Yo ho, yo ho, no pirate’s life for me!

  • First of all, I could have read something much longer and been fine. Second, this isn’t funny, but I cheer a little when you depart from your narrative to punch your father’s face, then return like nothing happened.

    You are equally strong and sensitive and I’m glad your family has your salty, savvy sense of humor in their lives. Your husband is picking up big points in my book as well. XO

    • My husband and I are great together. I mean, except for when we’re not, but we have similar personality so there are sometimes fireworks..but we are truly each other’s best friend. And thank you so much. xoxoxoxo

  • OMG! You led a life of crime…little did we know..I once took a bracelet when shopping with my Mom and we got outside the store and she saw it on my arm…she had a fit and made me march back in and return it and apologize….I never did it again….I think I was 5 when this incident happened….

  • Damn, Girl… you know how to party… for an 11 year old 🙂
    My horror story is similar to Emelle’s… the little corner Mom-n-Pop grocery in our small town. The ‘old man’ used to always give us a candy bar when Mom and I and my sisters stopped in.
    One day, and I’m not sure why I was unsupervised… I was 4 or 5, the ‘old man’ wasn’t working, so I took ‘my’ obligatory candy bar. Mom saw me eating it at home and asked where I got it…
    Yup. Had to take it back, pay and apologize.
    Lesson learned… until I saw those awesome Lee stretch jeans in the truckstop where I worked, 15 or so years later. Hated those jeans after I smuggled them out after my shift. They didn’t fit right and they stank of shame.
    That was when I was a ‘Good Christian’ so the shame part probably wouldn’t be such a factor, these days.
    So. I am flat impressed that you got yourself through those awful public school years with determination and independence.
    I wore homemade clothes, and garage sale ‘Hash’ jeans until I was in 6th grade and finally got a babysitting job and bought my first pair of ‘real’ new jeans… Body Lingo! No Levi’s for me 😉
    And now??? Home-fucking-made is the go to 🙂 🙂 🙂 Not homemade by me, of course!!! I can’t believe all the crochet and knitting books I’ve been putting on the system this year… that are getting checked out!
    I still can’t believe how you made Kathy’s baby shower happen! Amazeballs for 11 year olds!!

  • I stole once. Candy. I was tricked into it–I was a trusting kid and was told my friend already paid for it. She told me after we left because she thought it was funny that I was that stupid (I remember that tease vividly). I felt so guilty I went back and paid for it.
    Anyway this really…I have a lot of emotions about this post. I want to hug and befriend young Michelle. It’s a sad (not pitiful just sad that you had to go through it) honest post. But yes you were also strong and yes fearless and it makes sense you would own it. You should.
    Most of all you and your friend were kind. I bet that woman still remembers that baby shower with happy fun and feeling cared for memories.

  • My older sister (by 18 months) and I got busted at Zayres. We had been lifting for a couple of years, mostly 45’s (records, not guns). We were at the store with our mom and younger sister and decided we wanted a couple of things. We never had money because there were no babysitting jobs where we moved to so what the hell were we to do? That’s right, STEAL! We were a comfortable middle class family of 6. Parents happily married, they were great parents and we were a close family, I have no idea why we stole other than we wanted to. So, we are walking out of the store and the security guy walks up and tells us to come with him. Oh shit, my sisters start crying and I get pissed. Luckily he knew our last name because of my older brothers girlfriend so he let us off with a warning. My poor mother! BECAUSE my brother had just gotten busted breaking into cars at the airport with his friend the previous week. What the fuck was wrong with us?? He did it for a lark and it broke my dads heart. He lucked out too as the judge could tell he was from a good family, so gave my brother a lecture and sent him on his way. My mom didn’t even tell our dad about his girls getting caught for stealing, she thought his head would explode so we kept that information on the down low. None of us ever stole again. I think we all felt so thankful and lucky we didn’t end up in the slammer.

  • Wow. On the one hand I don’t want to condone criminal activity but on the other hand you took some fucked up circumstances and did the best you could to make them better.
    With the baby shower you did the best you could to make someone else’s life a little better.
    Even if the statute of limitations hadn’t expired a few decades ago that’s got to be worth something.
    And emelle’s story of stealing Chiclets reminded me that’s the only thing I remember stealing. Except I didn’t technically steal them. They were in front of the register at a restaurant and I assumed they were like complimentary candy, so while my father was paying for the meal I took a box. On the way home my mother saw me eating some and explained those were for sale. And then we agreed not to discuss it again.
    I did a lot of things we agreed not to discuss again.

  • Damn, I was halfway through a comment and the power went out and took the wifi and my comment with it.
    Try again:
    I never had what it takes to shoplift, or really, steal, for the most part, but there were a few spectacular exceptions to that:
    When I was a kid, I worked at the Montgomery Ward store in Eureka, first as a janitor, then in the warehouse. While I was still a janitor, I discovered the trash room, the place all the trash went for nightly pickup. Sometimes you could find some good things in there; damaged or returned merchandise that couldn’t be sold. I got many interesting items from the trash room: a hickory pick handle, a box of brass fittings, a few LPs with damage to the covers (there were actually hundreds of LPs in the trash room, but most of them sucked, so I left them there) and most importantly, four bath towels and a hair dryer.
    After I moved out of my parents’ house when I was 18, I moved in with a co-worker who attended Humboldt State. He had a Montgomery Ward credit card, so I never thought twice about the stuff he had from the store.
    I found out he had been stealing most of it when I went to work one day and was arrested, fired, and sent with the cops to our apartment where they searched it and took everything from Montgomery Ward, including the stuff my roommate had bought with his credit card and my bath towels and hair dryer.
    We were each charged with three felonies: grand theft, embezzlement, and receiving stolen property.
    Eureka is a small place, or was at the time, about 25,000 people, so although everyone didn’t know everyone else, everyone who worked in a particular field did. Like, say, the field of the law, which my mother had worked in as a legal secretary for criminal defense attorneys for decades. She was the best, and could pretty much work for whoever she wanted. Which is how when my case came up on the docket with “McFall” as one of the defendants’ names, instead of being referred to the public defender’s office, the court appointed me an attorney, and not just any attorney, but a man named Leonard Conry, a private practice attorney who had previously been the district attorney for Humboldt County for fifteen years or so.
    When he stood up as counsel at the arraignment, the special investigator for Ward’s corporate said “Fuck”, slammed his briefcase, and stalked out of the courtroom.
    So I didn’t get convicted of anything that time.
    There was also the stealing I did from Tumbleweed, when they were abusing me and not paying me for what I was doing for them. That just amounted to taking care of my food intake, as it was a natural foods warehouse.
    There was also the time that my friend Rob tricked me into helping him steal a Harley from the impound yard. The rider of said Harley had been killed in the accident, and Rob worked for the tow company that impounded it. The most interesting thing about that event was how we hauled the Harley (not the whole thing, mind you, the entire front end of it was missing) away from the impound yard in the middle of the night:
    We stuffed in into his ’78 Trans Am, which he had taken the rear seat out of to accommodate his felonious endeavor…

  • I did my fair share of shoplifting in my teens. Mostly to try and get my stepdad arrested, though. I hated that fucker.

  • Haha wow, looking forward to part 2!
    I was WAY too much of a goody-goody as a kid to even think about stealing from a store. But I did take a few things here and there from friends’ houses; small jewelry items and accessories that wouldn’t be easily missed. Which is probably worse on the karma scale since I was taking stuff from people who trusted me instead of some faceless corporation.
    I do have a favorite third party shoplifting story from when I was working at a grocery store. The store’s deli manager and a guy from the meat department spent one of their breaks one day systematically eating through our leftover stock of Halloween candy. They were caught on camera (because duh) and fired.
    Meat guy didn’t contest his dismissal. Deli manager did – by claiming that she was addicted to meth and couldn’t control her sugar cravings, and that firing her for it was discrimination because her addiction qualified as a disability. Despite the fact that this was complete and utter bullshit and everyone knew it, the store’s Powers that Be decided they didn’t want to go there and she was quietly hired back and transferred to different store.

  • I’m not meaning to downplay stealing, but this feels more like survival. Emotional and psychological survival. Let’s face it, home life was appalling and school being another battle ground was too much to handle.
    I wish I had thought of it myself, although to be fair, I wouldn’t have had the balls.

  • My great aunt got caught shoplifting once in her 80s. She had one of those hard-sided handbags with the hinge on the bottom and rested it on a display to reapply her lipstick. She closed her handbag, walked out the store and was grabbed by the arm to be taken to security. When they asked her why she was stealing, she was flummoxed. They asked to see her handbag and hanging from the bottom hinges was a giant pair of white cotton panties. She said, “Why, in God’s name, would I steal THOSE.” They didn’t charge her.

  • I have a similar childhood, and admit to the teenage shoplifting but I went big… Liz Claiborne purse and wallet at Dillards. I loved that thing too. Sad thing is I had the money to buy it! I never owned a pair of jeans until I was 14. And then only had one pair.
    Still dont have more than 2 pair in my closet.
    You are in good company my friend… we could enjoy some wine and talk about the old days (minus the belly ache)

  • Oh the seventies! I wore homemade clothes too. I remember finding a top I really liked in the Sears catalog, but of course we didn’t just buy regular priced clothes from the catalog! So my mother would just look at the clothes, the elephant leg pants and the smock tops that tied in the back, and she would make them for me, no patterns, just cut out the pieces and then I had clothes that I was too nice not to wear, didn’t want to hurt her feelings. But oh my good Lord, I just wished with all my heart I could just have nice new clothes. We also qualified for free lunches, but my mom wouldn’t let us get them. Instead I brought a peanut butter sandwich from home, chips only if it was the day after pay day, and had a drink of water from the fountain, unless I scraped together a dime for milk. So I got a job at the Super Supply school store as a fifth grader, and I am not proud to say that I figured out how to get a quarter here and there by erasing purchases in the inventory book, and pocketing the money. I felt so horrible. But the cookies in the cafeteria were 25 cents a pack, and we simply didn’t get cookies very often, and I wanted them. You aren’t the only one with a criminal past! I’m glad you shared, you certainly have a way with words, and I love that you gave Kathy a proper baby shower.


  • My great grandmother was a Whalen…

    And I find not one word of this shocking. Found myself wondering what happened to the baby though. It would be weird if he or she read your stuff.

By Michelle


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