I'm A Chronic Shoplifter & Have No Intention Of Stopping

Illustrated by Isabel Castillo.
I enter the dressing room with two shirts and a pair of $10 black tights in my hands. Before I unzip my jeans, I scan the four angular corners of the ceiling. No surveillance cameras. I take off my pants and slide on the tights. They look perfect, so I slide off the security tag and pull my faded jeans over them. Walking out, I’m slightly bulkier but totally inconspicuous. I buy the shirts.

Most people go on shopping trips, but I go on shoplifting trips. It’s petty theft, really — a notebook here, a pair of leggings there. It might seem morally objectionable, but that’s not how it feels. Growing up poor in New York City, I found myself with a deep hunger for material objects and scant resources to obtain them. My mother would dress me in clothes three times my size, saying it would save our family money for years, and at Christmas, my five siblings and I became more of a burden than a blessing. I did not ask for presents on my birthday. I never traveled outside New York’s five boroughs. And prom seemed like an extravagant expense, so I did not go.

In high school, I became consumed with want, but economic forces beyond my control — I couldn’t ask my parents to work more, and I couldn’t ask the world to charge less — constrained my universe. One day I was in a store, and I saw a tag had come off a black shirt with a glittering front. I didn’t need the shirt, but I had to have it. Tucking it into my purse, I walked right out of the store. Shoplifting, I realized, was easy, and the feeling of walking out of a store with something was intoxicating.
Illustrated by Isabel Castillo.
By the time I got to college — an elite private university to which I have a full scholarship — I saw my peers shopping without financial concern. One time, I watched a girl add a $400 shirt to her online shopping cart like it was a bag of chips from a vending machine. Fundamentally, I cannot connect with anyone here, and on most days, I come home early and search for more shoplifting techniques.

They're simple, really. Common sense. Do not steal from stores you frequent. It builds a pattern, and familiarity breeds carelessness. Try on several items at a time. Go to the dressing room with several articles of clothing and decide which ones fit the best and have the most disposable tags. Wear the clothes out of the store. It’s definitely no good to stuff stolen articles into a bag. (Who carries around extra T-shirts in their purse? No one.) Wearing the clothes lends an air of plausible deniability. Make a decoy purchase. It’s imperative to buy something while in the store. This lets you blend in with other customers.

Because of these techniques, I neither raise suspicion nor ring alarms. This emboldens me to shoplift whenever the urge strikes. The other day I was on Instagram, looking at artists’ notebooks filled with sketches, and 20 minutes later, I was in a stationery store. When I got back to my apartment, I told my sister about the notebook obtained through the five-finger discount. She was horror-struck.
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Illustrated by Isabel Castillo.
“You’re going to get thrown in jail for stealing stationery?” she says. “You’ll throw away your future for $20?”

I tell her she’s being overly cautious, that the security in these stores is weak, that everything you need to know about shoplifting can be found on the internet. “You can even buy a small machine to remove the security tags,” I add. “It’s all online.” My sister’s mouth hangs open.

“It’s not like I bought the thing,” I say in my defense. “That’s a waste of money.”

Her judgment annoys me, but there’s a prick of anxiety in the back of my brain. Will my luck run out? Maybe, but I tell myself shoplifting is negligible in the larger ecosystem of crime and theft. There are petty shoplifters, and then there are thieves — white-collar criminals who fleece millions in bank scandals. I’m just a drop in the ocean, barely making a wave.

Ultimately, the world is unfair, and the economic divide in this country is huge. Clothes magnify class differences, and we are judged accordingly. Call it illegal. Call it retributive justice. But for me, it’s survival.

Good Behavior premieres November 15 at 10/9c on TNT. Watch the trailer below.
The views in this story are those of the author, whose name has been changed. Refinery29 and TNT do not condone illegal activity.
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