Always Follow Your Instinct

May 26, 2008
By Catherine Lamonica, Park Ridge, IL

The first time I ever stole anything was the summer going into eighth grade. My friends, at the time, and I were at Walgreen’s. I have no idea what started the whole idea of stealing but I remember it being fun and exhilarating.
That was the best summer of my life.
We had fun everyday going to the little shops uptown and taking little knick-knacks and make-up. Soon school started and the stealing stopped. It wasn’t a big deal. It’s not like we became kleptomaniacs afterward, we just couldn’t do it anymore. The stealing ended and so did my friendships. High school started and I made new friends. I still wasn’t stealing and had no desire to. Then in my junior year, it began again. I couldn’t tell you how it started up. Soon, my friend and me were at the mall almost every weekend. We didn’t steal huge things. Just shirts and some sweaters. We would pick things out, go to the dressing room and that would be that. We would walk out of the store either already wearing the clothes or stuffed them into another bag from shopping some place cheap. We had to be very particular about where we could shoplift and get away with it. There were two places that we knew there was no chance of getting caught.
Macy’s and Nordstrom’s.
The clothes in those stores didn’t have the magnetic devices the cashier people usually take off when you buy new clothes; so when we walked out, the buzzers would never go off. We definitely pushed our limits sometimes to the point of stupidity and we should have gotten caught but we didn’t. Whenever I got home, I would show my family what I “bought” and when they asked how I had so much money to buy everything I told them a number of excuses. Usually I would say everything was buy one, get one free even though that never happens in clothing stores. Another one was that my friend lent me money, or simply, it was just plain cheap.

One night in October, the day of my brother-in-laws birthday party, I told my family that I was going shopping for a birthday present, which was the truth. I went out that night only to buy a gift for him. Of course I had my friend with me who dragged me to Macy’s but still, I was not going to take anything tonight. I had the biggest instinct that people were watching me and I just wasn’t in the mood to do it. Somehow we ended up in the junior’s section and I was still strong with my gut feeling. I leaned over and told my friend that I had a bad feeling and I wasn’t going to take anything. I told her she could if she wanted to but it just wasn’t my night. She shrugged me off and started picking things out. So I started looking around. I found a blue, wool sweater that was cute and something that I could actually use. I look at the price tag and it said $32.00. That was over my price limit as hard as that is to believe. I figured I’d try it on and if it really looks that good then I wouldn’t mind paying. It wasn’t as flattering as I had hoped and it actually turned out to be pretty ugly. My friend was in the dressing room next to me trying things on, or should I say ripping off price tags, tearing them into tiny shreds and throwing them over the door. I walked into her dressing room and told her I didn’t like it. She didn’t want to steal by herself. I told her flat out, “Then don’t do it” but apparently she really wanted it so I started thinking,”When is the next time I’m going to be at the mall? Not for a couple weeks at least.” So I stuffed the ugly, blue, wool, sweater into my purse and we were off.
The moment we stepped out the doors of Macy’s, there were two security guards behind us. They kindly stopped and asked us if they could check our purses. My jaw dropped. My friend starts bawling immediately. We followed the security guards to a little room downstairs. As we walk through Macy’s with these strangers carrying our purses, I had no idea what to think. I’ll I could say was “Oh my God, how did this happen?! We did everything the same!” My outside appearance was fine but inside my brain were millions of repetitive thoughts about how much I was going to disappoint my family.
Not to mention they were all at my house waiting for me to get home and celebrate the birthday party.

While we were sitting in this little room with my friend hyperventilating next to me, the security guards were going through every inch of our purses. They found our drivers licenses and asked us our phone numbers. My friend volunteered to go first. The whole time I was completely tranquil. All I kept asking was if there was any possible way to go through this without calling my sister. They told me absolutely not. I sat there, quietly, listening to my friend spill her guts out to her dad on the phone. When she was finished, she sat down next to me again and calmed down. I can’t really remember what happened next but I know for sure that they asked if I wanted to talk to my family, and I answered with a sharp no. I gave them by brother-in-laws phone number because I was too afraid of my sister. As they were talking, I knew every thought that was going through his mind.

After that, a juvenile police officer with a lazy eye and a southern accent came in the room and started cracking jokes. My friend and I couldn’t believe it. All these people were laughing and we were on the verge of death, or at least it felt like we were. I couldn’t help but to let out a little chuckle. It wasn’t because anything was funny; it was a laugh of “I can’t believe this is actually happening.” I look over, and my friend is laughing too. I asked them if this happens often. They told me this was their third encounter that day.
It made me feel a little bit better but not really.

I can’t remember leaving that little room in the basement at all or when the police officer handcuffed my friend and I together. I remember vividly having to walk through the store with every one that was shopping, staring me down. That was by far the most embarrassing point of my entire life. All I could do was pull my sleeve down as far as possible and look down the whole time. Once we got out of the store, it didn’t end. There was a bunch of people waiting for the bus. They all watched as I slid into the back of the cop car. I went in first and my friend right after me. We sat there for a good while and I just started laughing. Hysterically. I couldn’t stop. My friend was still crying but laughing at the same time. I have no idea why. I guess there was nothing else to do except make the best out of the situation.
We were both about to be torn to pieces.
When we got to the police station, we were separated into two rooms. Each room had a small table and a few chairs. The detectives were being nice but kind of mean at the same time. They thought I didn’t take them seriously because my friend has cried her body weight in tears and I had barley shed one. All we could say is that we cope differently.
There was a thin window in the door and I could see my friends' dad walk by to the next room.
I knew I was next.
A few minutes later, my brother-in-law and sister walk in. Right then, I couldn’t help to smile. There was no reason for it, I just smiled. They sat down across from me and the detective came in to talk to us. He basically told me that since I was sixteen, it wouldn’t go on my record but I had to cut off all ties with my friend, I had to pay the combined amount of stolen clothes and I had to go to a class for stealing every Wednesday for five weeks.
It was surprisingly kind of funny.
There was nothing I could do so I accepted my punishment, went to the class that I got nothing out of and paid my debt in an unbelievable amount of chores. We treat it as joke now but it was an act of God that I was caught. I would have kept doing it and eventually gotten caught and the consequences would have been so much worse.
Everything happens for a reason.

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