TALKING TO TEENS
Part II of II
Eighteen-year-old Claire got caught once shoplifting when she was 15. She said she was so scared she started to cry. Then she told the cop she was from a broken home and had lots of problems. Claire said she even played the bi-polar card and admitted to being a kleptomaniac and not being able to help herself.
Claire, like the teens who shared their stories with Austin Weekly News last week about shoplifting as an enjoyable pastime, isn’t too bothered by her crimes.
“By the time I was finished feeding that cop my story, he let me go,” she said. “I became so good at crying, that I use it to get out of anything. My homework, chores, it doesn’t matter. I just cry and tell my teachers I have family problems, and they believe me and I’d get out of it.”
Malls, stores, smaller retail outlets-it doesn’t matter to these teens. Simone, 17, who has refused to get swept up into shoplifting with her friends, says shoplifters also pay close attention to the weather.
“If it’s raining out, they know it’s good weather to steal. You can run and not worry about slipping and falling,” she said. “And most time, it’s a middle-age, heavy-set cop who catches you and he doesn’t want to run after you, especially in the rain. When it’s snowing it is especially bad for shoplifters because if you run, you might slip and fall and get caught. So when it’s snowing, they don’t take big risks,” she added laughing and shaking her head.
Another thing Simone said about teen shoplifters is that you can’t talk about shoplifting around them. “You can’t even openly joke about it. They don’t joke about it; they take it seriously like it’s a business. If you start joking about it around them, they will tell you to shut up. They are afraid you will give their secrets away.”
In talking with Simone and the other teens, I soon discovered they had a code of ethics; a motto, many called it: “Never take anything you don’t want or won’t use.” Most teens won’t take things to sell to others because they believe that’s how “you get caught.”
Simone said the teens are boasting and gearing up for a good holiday theft season. “When shoplifting was in the news, business was bad, but now people have gotten lenient. They have stopped with the metal detectors. They rarely have people at the doors anymore. This is bad for them, but good for the thieves. They should have at least one person at the door,” she said.
Another code of ethics the teen shoplifters live by is, “The worst thing you can do is squeal on another shoplifter to get yourself free,” 19-year old Marcus, said. “If you tell on him, so you can steal, that’s not a good thing.”
Simone added she sometimes lectures her friends and tries to dissuade them from stealing. “One day you’re little and you’re stealing candy, then one day you’re stealing cars?” she said to Marcus who immediately replied, “You’ll never go from candy to cars. There is a category and a system. You’ll never jump out of your category in an instance. You’ll go from candy to jewelry, then small electronics, computers, televisions, cell phones, then maybe cars. People who lift big things like computers and televisions are generally going to sell those things because it’s hard to trace those things.”
I asked a couple of the teens if they thought what they were doing was wrong or if they ever felt remorse. Many answered they didn’t think it was wrong. One, 18-year-old Amanda, went so far as to put a philosophical spin on it.
“The world has guilds,” she said. “There are writing guilds, there are manufacturing guilds, there’s the arts guild and our guild is to steal.
“It’s like balancing,” she added. “If you didn’t have stealing, then the police wouldn’t work as hard as they do.”