Voice of the Victims

DRAFT VERSION

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Hear The Voice of Your Victims

Introduction

Before you begin this page, please review my DISCLAIMER.  This website is not intended to render clinical, legal or other professional services, and should not be considered – in any way – a substitute for legal advice, professional therapy/counseling, or group therapy.

“Shoplifting is a victimless crime.” This is a common lie that people who shoplift tell themselves when trying to justify their stealing addiction. In this section of the workbook, we are going to hear the voices of our victims by using our imagination and empathy. Imagination and empathy are valuable tools that we can add to our recovery toolbox.

With imagination we can visualize and forecast the consequences of our actions. The phrase “Think it through” involves this process of forecasting the future by playing out a scenario in our mind before we take any action.

Empathy gives us the ability to feel what others are feeling. For example, you can feel emotional pain when you hear about a four-your old that has been hospitalized after being beaten and thrown up against the wall. You can feel a deep sorrow when an elderly person grieves at the graveside of a spouse of 60 years. Most people can actually feel emotions that mirror the pain of those who hurt around us.

 


Imagination is not only the uniquely human capacity to envision that which is not, and therefore the fount of all invention and innovation. In its arguably most transformative and revelatory capacity, it is the power to that enables us to empathize with humans whose experiences we have never shared.
— J. K. Rowlings


can imagine the damage that we will do through stealing, and then we can feel the pain we will cause before we actually go out and steal again. It is this wonderful ability to visualize the pain we will cause others through our actions that can enable us to stop stealing. However, people who shoplift tend to do as little “thinking through” as possible. Deep inside we know that the consequences of our actions cannot be good, moral or productive. We know, at least in our sub-conscience, that we are creating pain and destruction by stealing. I want you to be brave, therefore, as you go through this section. You will learn to leave the present, look into another time (imagine), and feel what happens to others when you steal (empathize). Try to feel the pain that you cause others and yourself when you violate your conscience and take that which is not yours. Imagination and empathy enable us to feel the heat of the stove before we actually get burned, and before we burn others. We must be courageous and suffer with those we have hurt in the past, and imagine the pain we will cause others if we continue to take what is not ours.

“Ignorance is bliss.”
–Unknown

People who steal talk themselves into believing that there are no true victims of their shoplifting. The self-deception goes something like this: “I only steal from big box stores like Wal-Mart because they make millions of dollars, and they have plenty of money.” Most shoplifters do not steal from individuals or friends directly, telling themselves that nobody is truly hurt by their actions. I deceived myself with similar logic when I was stealing. I thought of my shoplifting as having a “moral code” that I followed in order justify my crime. Many of those involved in employee theft have developed this same type of rationalization that makes them feel a little better about their crime. As crazy as it sounds, you can end up “stealing with honor” in your own mind, ignorant of the wake of destruction you create when you take things that are not yours. We will look at who our victims are, and how they are impacted when we steal from them. My aim is to put an end to the bliss of your ignorance and help you to hurt with your victims. While it is not pleasant to think about the potential pain of others, it is much better than actually causing the pain by stealing.

Imagination and empathy are skills that can be developed. We have desperately wished for the police, shop owners, prosecutors and judges to develop the ability to imagine what we are going through, and to feel the pain of our addition. Use that same level of desire to develop the ability to feel the pain of those who are hurt by your stealing. Imagine how you want to be understood by the system, and seek to understand your victims with the same passion. You may not be good at it to start, but empathy can be learned, and progress can happen quickly if you apply yourself to the task.

Take some time below to write out some of the things you have told yourself in order to beat back your conscience and justify your stealing. If you have stopped stealing and realized now how you were wrong, put down some of your specific thoughts about your personal ability to deceive yourself. I have always been surprised at how smart I am when it comes to rationalization, and how slow I am to see through my own lies to the truth of the matter. Do your best to see through your own BS. (And I don’t mean a Bachelor of Science degree.)

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It is now time to take off your shoes and strap on the boots of your victims. Let me warn you, however, that…

Empathy Hurts!

It is our natural tendency, consciously and subconsciously, to avoid suffering. We all seek happiness and avoid anything that causes us pain. When you choose to empathize with your victims, you are choosing to feel their pain and mentally experience their suffering. It is easier to just not think about it. Make a commitment in writing to feel the pain of your potential victims before you actually before you actually do the damage. Take the time to hurt. It is through suffering we gain the will to change.

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It is much more difficult to steal if you can feel what your victims feel when you steal from them. Before we move on, take a moment to jot down what your victims may think of your decision to take things that they worked hard to achieve, and how the community feels about the disruptions of peace, law and order that shoplifting has created.

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Psychopaths have trouble feeling empathy for others, but most shoplifters are not psychopaths. No, most shoplifters are simply too focused on themselves and their own own problems to give any thought to how others might feel about their stealing. It is common in 21st century society to focus on yourself, making you the center of the universe. You probably would not say it that bluntly to yourself. However, It is now a generally accepted state of mind to elevate your desires above others. It is now “normal” to seek your own personal fulfillment without considering the harm you might do to others. We are taught to focus on how special we are, and how much we deserve. You can look around you and see people everywhere taking “selfies,” and plastering the social media with selfie videos. At the same time, we find that people are doing less to serve others. The problem is that self-centeredness stands as a barrier to empathy. In other words, if all of your mental energy is focused on yourself and all of your problems, it is extremely difficult to feel the pain that your stealing is causing others.

It’s your turn again. Do you take a lot of selfies? Are you too preoccupied with yourself and all of your problems to think about how others are affected by your stealing? Do you think that finding your own happiness is more important than bringing happiness to others? Do you think that you can find happiness by bringing happiness to others? What do you do to help others, and how much time do you spend per week helping others? Do you believe that you are too busy working on your own problems to even think about helping others? If so, how is that working for you?

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As I said above, people who steal are brilliant at the art of rationalization. We train our brains to think of reasons as to why our shoplifting is justified. We know stealing is not right, so we must construct a way to beat back our inner voice as it tells us, “That’s is not right; that’s not yours.” Honesty is a self-evident truth. Everyone knows innately that it is wrong to steal from others. I guess that’s the reason you never hear anyone publicly promoting the virtues of stealing. Colleges don’t offer corses in shoplifting, and you cannot major in robbery at Yale or Harvard. (Unless, of course, you are studying to be a stock broker. 🙂 No, you must construct a brilliant mental web of rationalization that you can then fly right into and get stuck. You can remain blinded by your wrong thinking. When you rationalize, you tell yourself “rational-lies.” (Stephen Covey) You might call this an inner war that we create within ourselves, with our conscience battling against our web of rationalization. Many of us have walked around for years never truly understanding the conflict that is within us is one of our own creation. My personal solution to the inner battle was to have a light shined on my rationalization when I was arrested. All the lies that were hidden in a dark corner of my mind were brought to the surface, and I sat in the back of the police car wondering how I could have been so blind to my own thinking errors. It was only after seeing my own self-deception that I began to feel the pain I was causing others through my shoplifting.

Jot down some ways you have lied to yourself to justify your stealing compulsion? Can you think of a time when you finally found some lies hiding in a dark corner of your mind? Have you felt a battle inside of your mind, with one voice telling you, “You know this is wrong,” and another saying, “My stealing is justified because _______”?

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Before we start trying to feel the pain of our victims, there is one important thing to keep in mind.


Empathy is a tool to help you stop stealing.
Empathy is not a club you use to beat yourself up.


 

If you are like me, you already know that you have caused a lot of damage to yourself and to the lives of others by stealing. So be gentle with yourself. If you are already feeling a lot of pain through empathy for others, use this lesson as a fact-finding where you recognize the harm that comes to others when you steal. The point is to help you to stop stealing. Avoid using this material as a weapon against yourself. That may drive you into depression and self-loathing. You are not a bad person. You have simply made some bad decisions with hurtful consequences. The best way to heal is to use your pain to help you stop stealing. So be gentle with yourself.  You will be less likely to go out and steal if you treat yourself as you would treat a dear friend in need of help.

In her book, “Self Compassion,” Dr. Kristin Neff says Self-Compassion has three elements:

1. Self-kindness: Being warm and understanding toward ourselves when we suffer, fail, or feel inadequate, rather than ignoring our pain or flagellating ourselves with self-criticism.
2. Common Humanity: Common humanity recognizes that suffering and feeling of personal inadequacy are part of the shared human experience—something we all go through rather than something that happens to “me” alone.
3. Mindfulness: Taking a balanced approach to negative emotions so that’s feeling are neither suppressed nor exaggerated. We cannot ignore our pain and feel compassion for it at the same time. Mindfulness requires that we not “over-identify” with thoughts and feelings, so that we are caught up and swept away by negativity.

Take a few minutes to discuss how you are going to be kind to yourself. Talk about how you really feel about yourself. Do you think it will be difficult for you to be kind to yourself? Using the three elements of self-compassion above, work up a personal action plan of self-care.

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Let’s look at one last element before we start imagining with empathy. Imagination with empathy is not easy for everyone. This may be a big change in the way your brain is used to thinking. You need three things in order to change anything in your life according to Stephen Covey in “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.”

  1.  Knowledge: You have to know that you need to change, and you have to learn how to change.
  2. Skill: Like learning to play a musical instrument or a sport, you learn how to so something, and then you practice over and over again what you have learned. Knowing is not enough to become a great player.
  3. Desire: You have to want to change, and then you have to wake up every day and want it again and again.

Empathy is a learned skill that your brain can get better at. If you are not good at feeling the pain that you have caused others through stealing, your mind can improve your empathetic ability. You need a desire to learn to feel what those you have hurt feel. You will need to know what you have done to hurt them by imagining what they have gone through. Finally, you will need to practice empathy until you are good at it. You will need a strong desire for change through the whole process, not just in the beginning. As I said in the modual, “Do the Work,” overcoming an addiction is not easy and it takes hard work for a sustained amount of time.  Talk about your willingness, or lack of willingness, to do the work of learning empathy.

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It is now time to hear from your victims. I am going to go through the list of the people that stealing impacts, from the general impact of stealing, to the personal impact of those who are close to you. Let’s get started.

Law Enforcement Officers are Victims

The United States of America is a country of laws. Laws are a set of rules that we as a people have established, in theory, to maintain a civil way of life. However, it is clear that if a law is not enforced, our laws are meaningless. That’s where law enforcement officers come into the picture. Law Enforcement enables us to live in the overall peace that we enjoy as American citizens. It is therefore vital for us it uses our imagination to understand the impact that we are having on law enforcement when we steal. Shoplifters tie up law enforcement resources while other more serious crimes are, or may be, committed in another area of town.

Let’s try to imagine a situation where you are the victim of a crime that could have been stopped if the police were able to arrive in a more timely manner. Imagine you are a student at a local school. You are in class when the school goes on lockdown due to an active shooter. You can’t escape, and you hear the gunshots. They get closer and closer, and your prayer is that the police will arrive to save you before the gunman gets to your classroom. Now imagine that the police are at a Walmart across town dealing with a shoplifter. The officer gets the call, runs to his car, then rushes across town with sirens blaring. Traffic is bad and the officer is delayed. Meanwhile, the gunman reaches your door, and the doorknob begins to turn. The door opens and the gunman steps in and opens fire. You are hit, but you live. Many of your classmates are not as fortunate, and several lose their life before the police finally arrive. Imagine how you would feel when you hear on the news that the police were delayed because they were dealing with a shoplifter who pocketed some batteries.

Now is your turn to express empathy. Write out below how you think the officer would feel about the loss of life because he could not get to the scene of the shooter fast enough to save the students who were killed or wounded. Would you expect that police officer to have little tolerance for shoplifters? Do you think the officer will have trouble feeling sorry for you the next time he arrests you at Walmart?
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How do you think the wounded victims feel about the high cost of shoplifting, and about the fact that the police were delayed senselessly due to someone who decided to steal?
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The fact is that there are a lot of people who steal just like us, and they tie up our law enforcement officers all over the country. While it is impossible to calculate how many people have been hurt or killed as a result of an officer who was delayed in arresting and transporting shoplifters all over the country, it is safe to assume that it happens every day. I recently read that at some of WalMart’s Super Centers, the police make up to six arrests a day prompting a handful of departments to hire an additional officer just to deal with the extra workload. No matter how you look at it, shoplifting is a drain our our police resources, both in tax dollars for extra patrols, and in the human cost of delayed police response.

Write a few thoughts on this topic that you perhaps had not thought about before.
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The Court System/Correctional System are Victimized

Our court system and correctional facilities are over-burdened. Non-violent crimes like most theft offenses add to the the burden, with most shoplifters getting caught, charged, convicted and sentenced repeatedly. We have several people on my support call who have stolen on their way to or from court where they were dealing with other theft charges. It is no wonder that we find few people in the criminal justice system who have any sympathy for those who shoplift. According to the National Association of Shoplifting Prevention (NASP), “There are approximately 27 million shoplifters (or 1 in 11 people) in our nation today. More than 10 million people have been caught shoplifting in the last five years.”

Here’s a news flash. Prosecutors and judges know about us. They know that when you finally get caught you have been shoplifting many times prior to your first arrest. Again, according to NASP, “Shoplifters say they are caught an average of only once in every 48 times they steal. They are turned over to the police 50 percent of the time.” They know that you have been lurking in the shadows of your community, secretly pocketing things that you never earned. If you are like me, you never thought it all through until you were caught, but they had my number from day one. They know that we are a blight on our communities, causing damages that we deliberately don’t want to calculate. Meanwhile, the prosecutor and judges not only calculate the destruction, but they feel it as they hear from the victims every day. Yes, there are ridiculously high costs in the form of tax dollars required to support the salaries of those employed by the justice system, from the judge to the janitor, all to pay for those who choose to steal. However, there are many other less obvious, more devastating repercussions.

I want to talk about a less obvious repercussion that may help you to feel what others feel. Many shoplifters cannot afford private lawyers, so they are forced to utilize public defenders. As a result, the public defenders are overburdened with an impossible workload. When you as a shoplifter are represented by a public defender, it detracts from their ability to adequately represent those who are actually innocent; people who are charged with more serious crimes that they did not commit. My wife’s friend has a son who was accused of rape. He could not afford a good attorney, so he had to settle for a public defender. Public defenders are overburdened with cases to the point that they cannot deal with each one adequately. Shoplifters and other stealing offenders add significantly to that workload. As a result, public defenders try to avoid going to trial, trying to get their clients to plead guilty to a lesser charge that what they are accused of – even if their client is innocent of the crime. Anyway, the guy I was talking about was convinced by his public defender that he should take a plea deal, so he did. He is now a registered sex offender for life.

Imaging that you were accused of a crime like this, and you later understood that the public defender did not have adequate time to spend on your case because he was overwhelmed with shoplifting cases. Now you are a registered sex offender. Try to imagine what you are feeling now that you wear a sex offender’s scarlet letter. Your innocence does not matter anymore. You pled guilty to the crime that you did not commit because you were afraid of going to trial and facing prison.

There are thousands of innocent people charged with crimes they did not commit, and they are at the mercy of the overburdened public defender to represent them. Shoplifters, therefore, contribute to sending innocent people to jail by stealing the public defender’s time. The shoplifter steals more than just merchandise, and the consequences are greater than what is easily seen on a financial ledger.

Take a little time to write out the thoughts of an innocent person sitting in jail because the public defender did not have enough time to dedicate to a good defense. You took a plea deal. How do you feel? Imaging that on the day you were in court pleading guilty to something you did not do, you hear the judge sentencing a shoplifter to community service just before you get carted off to jail.

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I think some of you might be saying that I cannot directly tie shoplifting to the conviction of an innocent person. If you are thinking that, you have missed one of the main points of this section. One major part of your recovery from compulsive stealing is to transform yourself from a negative drain on your community into being a positive contributor. We can safely assume that stealing adds to the burden of public defenders in general, and that those who need a public defender would be better represented if the public defenders had more time to do so. When you are not in court tying up a public defender, you are making a positive contribution to your community.

Take a minute to express your desire to be a contribution to your community. Many make it a goal to attempt to pay back the community for what they have stolen by being a model citizen. How will you make your community a better place? Do you think you would have more peace of mind if you starting giving to the community rather than taking?

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Stores are Victims

American retailers lose more than $30 billion a year to theft, according to the National Retail Federation. It is also estimated that approximately 11% of Americans have shoplifted. 11 out of 100 people shoplifting is a staggering number. In this section we will look at just a few of the victims within the stores we have chosen t0 raid with our desire to get something for nothing.

Retail store owners in many cases have a small margin of profit. This is especially true in the big box stores like WalMart. People who have never run a business don’t realize how many expenses there are just to keep the doors open. Retail stores make money by buying merchandise from vendors and then selling them at a marked up price. If an item is stolen, the store owner is out the cost of the product, the labor involved in putting the item on the shelf, reordering, and restocking the item. Other expenses include labor time for inventory and accounting. Consider also the wasted rental space, utilities, phone, internet, etc. while the item is not on the shelf for someone else to buy. Time is money for a retailer. Every second that is wasted in a retail store puts extreme downward pressure on the owner.

Think about all of the businesses that have started and closed in your city that you know about. According to Bloomberg, 8 out of 10 entrepreneurs who start businesses fail within the first 18 months. A whopping 80% crash and burn. (Sep 12, 2013) Some retail stores operate at a 2% profit margin. That means that if a shoplifter or a dishonest employee steals $10 worth of merchandise, the store must then sell $500 more just to break even from the loss. In other words, the retail game is brutal, even without having to worry about shoplifters and dishonest employees. Add theft to the mix and it is a steep hill to climb, and a long row to hoe.

It’s time to turn on our creative insight and become a retail store owner. We just started “Widgets R Us,” and you believe that people are going to love your widgets. You have worked hard without pay to start your store, and you had to mortgage your house in order to pay the bills while you got things started. Now you’ve got everything riding on the hope that your idea will fly.

You work your heart out and sales are a success! You sold enough widgets to pay all of the bills, including your mortgage payment. Everything is wonderful until you take your first inventory, and you discover that there is something wrong. Your records show that you should have many more widgets than you actually have on the shelves. What you thought was a success turns out to be a loss. You are devastated when you realize that people have been stealing from you, and now you are going to have a hard time buying enough widgets to restock your shelves. What’s worse is that you don’t have money to install a security system, and you don’t have the funds to hire a security firm. You find a way to restock your shelves, but the losses continue over the next several months until you are forced to close your store. Not only do you loss your store, but you also lose your house because the income you counted on from the store is gone. Picture yourself loading up the moving truck while you think about the people who stole your widgets, and your dreams. How do you feel about shoplifting?

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Vendors are Victims

The big box stores are typically supplied by smaller companies called vendors. So a big box store is really a group of smaller companies selling through the brick and mortar store of the big box. When a vendor wants to put their product on the shelves of a big box store, they typically will have to accept low-profit margins and bare the cost of damaged or returned items, including shipping both ways. Sadly, those same vendors have to accept the risk of loss because of theft. Yes, the store loses its profit, but the vendor takes the biggest risk. Theft can put vendors out of business, and the only evidence that the vendor was ever in existence is the empty place on the shelf when their merchandise is pulled. A new vendor will fill that shelf space, and that new vendor will be the new target of the same shoplifters who put the last vendor out.

Perhaps you have never realized that big box stores are usually made up up of multiple vendors, and that many of those vendors are unable to weather the storm of too much shoplifting. Have you ever thought about that? Does this change the way you think about stealing from a big box store? Imagine you were one of those vendors. As a vendor, how do you feel about people who steal from you?

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Employees are Victims

As a business owner, I know that profits are used to hire employees. Loss through theft lowers the total amount of profits, and therefore lowers the number of jobs that will be available at the stores from which you steal. If theft increases, profits will decrease and some people will lose their job as a direct result of shoplifting.

When companies or vendors go out of business as a result of retail theft, many people lose their employment. While it is difficult to quantify how many people lose their job as a result of shoplifting, it is safe to say that it is happening every day.

Lack of employment can tempt good, honest people to think about stealing. Imagine that you have lost your job because your company closed down. You were already struggling, and the increase of shoplifting in the area pushed you over the edge. Now you are mad, and you start to believe that your community owes you, and they always treat you bad down at the big box store. You Rationalize that you deserve free things because the community is now denying you employment. You start off your shoplifting small with some batteries, because they are too expensive anyway, and that store should not be charging so much for batteries anyway. Soon you find yourself coming back again and again, stealing more and more. Now you are addicted to shoplifting. You were once an honest employee, but now you are an unemployed person who is addicted to shoplifting. You are now sitting alone, feeling guilty and mad at the shoplifters who made you lose your job. Eventually you will be caught for shoplifting, and then it will be nearly impossible for you to find another job because almost all employers run background checks before hiring. You don’t want to blame someone for your dishonestly, but if people were not shoplifting from your store, you would never have lost your job, and you would never have started shoplifting. How do you feel about those who shoplifted from the store where you used to work before they had to close? Do you believe that those shoplifters should be punished? Now that you are someone who shoplifts, do you believe you are responsible for your own bad decisions? Or, do you believe that your new addiction to shoplifting is not really your fault because the other shoplifters drove you to it? Can you start to see the vicious circle of “stinking thinking” that can take over your life?

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Customers are Victims

Let’s move on to the impact that your shoplifting could have on fellow customers. The actual losses of shoplifting generally include reordering, reshipping, and re-shelving merchandise. And, as mentioned above, there are lost sales from not having an item when a paying customer actually comes in to pay for it. As a result, the store may lose a customer permanently when the shelves don’t have the items they needed. Now the store has to spend more money to pay for advertisement in order to get more customers back into the store. Additionally, those who shoplift do not think through the expenses involved in theft prevention. There is management planning, security staff, and surveillance/monitoring/tracking equipment that must be utilized just to keep some semblance of control over the shoplifting epidemic.

We cannot really calculate the residual losses of low-level theft, but there is a high cost.

“Any fool can count the seeds in an apple.

Only God can count all the apples in one seed.”

― Robert H. Schuller

We can count the number of items missing from a store shelf, but we cannot calculate the total amount of loss caused by the bad apple of shoplifting.

Imagine you walk into a store and you have put $100 worth of groceries in your cart at WalMart. You push your cart up to the checkout and your items are scanned in. When it is time to pay the cashier, there is another person standing next to the cashier who informs you that you also will need to pay them $8 in addition to your $100 purchase. “Why,” you ask. You are told that this is a local shoplifter who has decided to just collect the cost he adds to your grocery bill directly. I know that sounds crazy, and you would never pay the extra amount. And yet, that is exactly what we do every time we go shopping.

When the store experiences an increase in the cost to do business, they must also increase the prices of their goods. While you would not hand over your hard earned cash directly to a professed shoplifter, you do pay your local store approximately 8% for the exact same purpose through higher priced goods according to some sources. Some government figures state that retail theft increases the cost of living index by an incredible 5–7% annually. The actual amount has little importance. Just know that when you steal from stores, it costs everyone approximately 5-8% of the money they spend on retail purchases.

Imagine now that you are an ordinary hard-working citizen who is barely making ends meet. You spend about $800 a month in retail purchases. That means that you are paying approximately $48 a month ($800 x 6% = $48) to pay because of retail theft. That means that if you make $12 dollars an hour, you spend four hours per month working to pay for people who shoplift.

When you work, you are actually trading a part of your life for money. Therefore, it is not stretching the truth to say that…

…people who shoplift are literally

stealing a part of your life.

The part of your life that is stolen could have been spent on your family, or some other enjoyable activity. You could have given that time to bring joy to others in service. Instead, people who shoplift stole that part of your life, and added to the weight of your struggle in life. How do you feel about working to support the bad habits of people who shoplift? How do you feel about losing part of your life because of people who want something for nothing? Would you say to someone who is stealing your life? Do you consider yourself a victim of a serious crime?

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Communities are Victims

The resources of your community are sapped by a constant flow influx of people caught trying to get something for nothing. Tax dollars go to pay salaries of court, jail, and prison staff, as well as buildings, utilities, and an unending list of other costs. Every dollar spent could be utilized in worthwhile community programs that really make a difference in the lives of those who suffer hardships.

Generally speaking, your community will suffer a loss of peace of mind when they have to worry about theft. Think of all the people who do business in your little part of the world. Would it not be a wonderful thing for them to relax and have complete trust that their customers would never steal from them. I used to leave my car unlocked in my driveway. I am fortunate enough to live in a typical middle-class neighborhood with a relatively low crime rate. One morning I came out to find that someone had rifled through every storage compartment and stolen everything of value out of my car. I used to park my car at the trailhead of a walking trail and I would not worry about what I left in it. One day while I was walking on the trail someone broke into my side window and stole my briefcase with all of my work and equipment. This took away some of my peace of mind, and from that point on I was worried about leaving my car in the driveway, or at the trailhead. That uneasy feeling is what people who steal give to their community in general. Rather than being a positive influence and a contributor to everyone’s well being, some of us have chosen to get something for nothing. Perhaps this choice was not a conscious one, but the result is the same:


We steal peace.
We create fear.


 

What about the people in real need. Every dollar spent on shoplifting costs is a dollar that is taken out of the pocket of someone in true financial need. While our welfare system in the United States is largely abused by thieves working the system, that does not negate the reality that there are many people in need who really need a hand up. Sadly, we are pouring millions of dollars into theft prevention, prosecution, and correction.

Imagine. Really try to imagine that you have a mental illness, you can’t get or keep a job, and it is 30 degrees out tonight. You have not eaten all day, so you are hungry, cold, and you can’t find a shelter that is not full. You know that there are thousands and thousands of dollars that are spent on shoplifting loss and prevention, and that you might have received a warm bed and a meal tonight if all that money was not going to deal with people who are trying to get something for nothing. In the blanks below, describe how it feels to spend the night hungry in the cold.

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When you work, you are actually trading a part of your life for money. You give some time out of your short life, relatively speaking, in exchange for money. All of us are forced to pay higher prices for our retail products as a result of shoplifting losses and expenses passed on to the community. Therefore, it is not stretching the truth to say that people who shoplift are literally stealing a part of your life. The part of your life that is stolen could have been spent on your family, or some other enjoyable activity. You could have given that time to bring joy to others in service. Instead, people who shoplift stole that part of your life, and added to the weight of your struggle in life. How do you feel about working to support the bad habits of people who shoplift? How do you feel about losing part of your life because of people who want something for nothing? Think about it. Someone is stealing part of your life right now by shoplifting. So is shoplifting a victimless crime, or a serious crime that robs people in the community of part of their life? 

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Family Members are Victims

Stealing takes a high toll on your family. You may think that you are getting something for nothing, but always remember…

 


There is always someone who pays for your theft.

There are always victims who pay a high and painful price.

The items you steal may be free, but it ain’t cheap.


 

Shoplifting costs your family your time. I spent many hours planning and working my plans of shoplifting. In fact, some would have called it an obsession. The time I spent on stealing was time away from my family. If fact, I have spoken with many people who shoplift.  They say that they have spent hours every week thinking about stealing, and planning it all out. When we stop shoplifting, we finally have time to see how committed we were to stealing, and how uncommitted we were to spending adequate quality time with the people we love the most. Imagine the people in your family who want to spend time with you. You spouse/partner, children, parents, grandchildren, etc. They need your time more than your stealing habit need you. Try to write what one or two of your family members would like to say to you about wanting some of your undivided attention. Imagine what they are thinking and feeling. Be brave and try to feel the pain you might bring to their life because you are not available.

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When you are caught stealing and your dark side is brought to the light, your family will lose the trust they once had in you. Some families never recover once they have seen the lies that we have been living. They may never stop wondering what other secrets you have hidden from them. They may never truly believe that you will ever stop stealing.

 


You may never be able to earn back the trust

which was once freely given.


 

In his book, Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey says, “You cannot talk your way out of something you behaved your way into.” It may take years for your family members to trust you again. You may never be fully trusted again, and some family members may never trust you as completely as they once did. I have seen families destroyed because of the trust that was lost through a theft addiction.

Here is a good metaphor for you to consider. Every time you shoplift, it’s like driving a nail in a piece of wood with a hammer. When you stop stealing, it’s like pulling all of the nails out to represent a fresh start. Now look at the piece of wood and you will find that you left permanent scars in the wood that cannot be removed. The nails are gone, but the wood will never be the same. Even when you stop stealing, the scars of your destructive action will remain part of your “permanent record” in the minds of some of your family members.

 

Even after forgiveness, there is remembrance.

 

I don’t know about you, but when I forgive somebody, my brain still remembers the hurt that was caused by the person I am forgiving. This is especially true when the trust I have given is violated, or when I have been betrayed in some way. Even when I am completely willing to give a fresh start to the person I have forgiven, my brain remembers the pain like the burn of a hot iron.

Imagine that you have given someone your complete trust, and now you find out that this person you love was keeping a dark secret from you. You thought you knew them, but now you see that they were living a lie, and making you think that they were honest and trustworthy. You now wonder what else are they hiding? Try to put into words what this betrayal of trust has cost you, and how hard it may be to every trust that person again. Is it possible that you will never trust them like you once did in the past? Could you say, to some degree, that you got a life sentence when you were betrayed?

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Your spouse may lose you because of your betrayal of their trust. Your children may be ashamed of you and grieve over the loss. Your grandkids may lose access to you because your children no longer trust you, and they will suffer. Your parents may feel like they have failed you, and they may be depressed for the rest of their lives wondering where they went wrong. People who once looked to you as an example and inspiration in life may achieve less in life because of losing you as a role model. The list of possible costs to your family relationships goes on and on.

Some members of your family may get
a life sentence because of your theft.

Now think about the financial cost to your family that results from your attempts to get something for nothing. You will have attorney fees and court costs to start. The store you stole from may also have a fee that they impose upon you. You may have to take time off of your job to spend time in jail. You may lose your job. You may not be able to get a job again because you now cannot pass a background check. If you are able to get a job, it may not offer the pay level that you could have had if you did not have a criminal record.

After I was caught stealing the last time, my whole financial world was hanging in the balance. I had to tell my precious wife that I may lose my business and that we would probably have to sell the house and downsize. I stole her financial peace of mind and threatened her financial future. My shoplifting was not a victimless crime. Even though I did get all charges dismissed, and we were able to keep the house and my business, my wife still paid a price.

Imagine that you are the spouse or partner of a person who was caught stealing at work. Your partner was fired because of the theft, and now the bills are piling up. Now they cannot get another job because of their conviction. Your partner tells you that they are sorry, and you believe him, but you may still lose your house because you depended on their income to get the bills paid. How do you feel? Are you afraid of losing everything because your partner tried to get something for nothing? You still love your partner, but now you face an unending financial hardship. Can you overcome this hurt, anger, and fear? This may be a life sentence not imposed by the courts, but by society. Do you feel like a victim of your partner’s crime?

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You are a Victim

“You are your own worst enemy.”

You have lied to yourself saying that your crime has no true victim. We have seen in this module that there are many who are negatively impacted by your stealing. Now we will look at what you have done to yourself. You have robbed yourself of time and money, and you have repeatedly violated your conscience. You are your own victim, and the abuse you unleash on yourself is no small matter.

”You just get so many trips ’round the sun.”

Kacey Musgraves – Follow Your Arrow

The clock is ticking and there are meaningful things for your to do. The world, your community, and your family are waiting for you to awake from your slumber and start living. They want to share quality time with you. Sadly, you have been spending your time in a world of lies and self-deception. You have been trying to escape the difficulties of the life you have by creating a false “shadow world” where you think you are a skilled acquirer of goods; where you falsely escape the harshness of life; where you believe you become invisible and even superhuman; where you attempt to get even with the world in a set of imaginary books. This alternate reality that you have created has made you a victim of your own imagination.

You have really stolen time from yourself. You could have built meaningful relationships. You could have developed a skill or a hobby that would bring real satisfaction. Instead, you have taken the path of least resistance. You have found it easier to be a victim than to fight for victory.

Many say that they can’t find the time to do the things in life that they deeply desire.

 

Time is not free. You must take time.

Time cannot be found. You must make it.

 

It is time to take back the time you traded for stolen merchandise and then spend that time on something worthwhile. Imagine that you could take back all of the time that you have spent stealing and planning to steal. What would you do with all of those hours?

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So start planning. Now you can take the time you spent shoplifting and invest it in the worthwhile activities you listed above. 

Have you ever considered how much money stealing has cost you? Shoplifting has many financial burdens that will leave your bank account bare. If you have been caught then you already know a lot of the direct and indirect expenses that you end up carrying, sometimes for the rest of your life. There is the lost work while you sit in jail awaiting a chance to appear before the judge to get bail; the cost of bail, attorney fees, court fees, and restitution, just to name a few. Additionally, you may end up with a criminal record that prevents you from getting a good job, or it gets you fired from the job you have. In this regard, some people will never stop paying for their shoplifting.

I personally never really stopped to weigh out the risks and reward of stealing. I avoided thinking this through because I really already knew that stealing had great financial risks that I did not want to face. So, in this section I would like you to imagine that you have been caught stealing, charged and convicted of a felony. For some this exercise will not take any imagination, as you are living the dream (nightmare). Imagine that you have used up your savings, lost your job, and you have no chance to get a job in the field in which you have skill and training. How much did shoplifting cost you? How much will it cost you?

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Shoplifting is like borrowing money from a mob boss.

You will reach a point where you cannot repay what you owe,

and you may pay for the rest of your life.

 

Let’s take a look at the taxing cost shoplifting puts on your peace of mind. You know in your heart and soul that stealing is inherently wrong. In other words, if there were no laws to make stealing a criminal action, you would still know that to take what is not yours without the consent of the owner is wrong. Some things in life are just written in our hearts as being wrong.

People who shoplift are typically depressed, even before they are caught. Adding to the shoplifter’s depression is the shame involved with violating our own conscience when we steal. As discussed earlier in this module, we try to rationalize and justify our actions, but we really know we should not be stealing things that don’t belong to us. When you steal, therefore, you will experience shame as you continue to fight against the things engraved in your own soul.

It is normal to experience guilt when we have violated our conscience. We know there is a moral law that we have broken, and we feel guilty over that action. You try to spin a justification story to your conscious mind, but you will be paying a pound of mental flesh in your subconscious mind. There is a whisper that you try not to hear or heed. There is a quiet voice that breaks through the mental noise that you hide behind, and it tells you, “Stealing is wrong. Stop taking what is not yours.” Look back now in your mind and try to remember those times when you tried not to hear your inner voice calling you to be an honest person of integrity.

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You will also experience shame. Shame, as I understand it, is based on what we think think of ourselves, and what we perceive that others think of us. People who steal typically carry a burden of unhealthy shame. We beat ourselves up because we see a loser in the mirror. Patrick Carnes, Ph.D., says that shame is when we perceive ourselves to be unlovable. We believe that if anyone found out about our stealing addiction, they would label us a bad person. Once you get caught, that which you feared usually becomes a reality to some degree. You may be shamed by friends and family Many times in the judicial system the police, prosecutors and judges will clearly communicate with cutting words and facial expressions of disdain that you are a “low-life thief.” People who once respected you now whisper behind your back. You may carry this shame for years, reminded again and again that you do not measure up to the standards set by our civil society. Take a minute to talk about the shame you have felt because of what you think of yourself. Describe the shame you feel because of what you believe others think of you.

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On a positive note, my guilt and shame over stealing are in the rearview mirror because of my new way of thinking and living. Once you start lining up your actions with your inner voice, you can come to grips with both guilt and shame. Guilt will start to dissipate because you will stop violating the laws of your own conscience, and you will begin to feel good about the new way you have chosen to live. Shame will decrease as your opinion of yourself gets better, and the people who know about your stealing will slowly start to trust you again, and may give you a second (or third, or fourth) chance. You will begin to perceive that others accept you as a human; someone with flaws who tries to do the right thing every time. Of course, some people may never trust you again, but it has been my experience that most people will.

The motivational speaker, Tony Robbins, says that it is a basic human need to feel that you are significant. There is nothing like some good old fashioned shoplifting to make you feel truly insignificant. Deep down we want our life to matter, and we want to make a positive difference. When we steal things, we rob ourselves of the good feelings brought on by doing the right thing. Take some time to verbalize your desire to have your life count for something. Maybe you want to be a good parent, grandparent, friend, or mentor, etc.

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Conclusion

Wow! To think that I used to talk myself into believing that my stealing was really a victimless crime. The things that I have mentioned in this module is not an all-inclusive list. I am sure you can think of other costs associated with stealing, and other victims that suffer because of a shoplifting addiction. We cannot calculate the damage that is done across our great nation as a result of theft.

Were you able to feel the pain of those you have affected? Did you allow yourself to imagine some of the situations you might have caused as you took that which was not yours? Well, use the suffering that you have felt through empathy and imagination to fuel your recovery. The suffering that you have allowed yourself to experience while going through this section can be used to help you change your actions. I have found that I do not change unless I suffer. Pain and suffering tell me that I am not doing something right, and I become willing to put forth the effort to change in order to find relief from my suffering. So embrace the pain of others through empathy, and you will find the motivation and tenacity required to stop stealing.

 

Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet.

Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened,

ambition inspired, and success achieved.

–Helen Keller

 

Take some time to reflect on the pain that you have experienced while thinking about your victims. Commit to use this suffering to change. You may initially feel shame from having to think about the things you have done, but don’t let this drag you down. Some shame can be healthy, pushing you to be the person you really want to be; pushing you to a life of integrity and contribution. Express your feeling below. ____________________________________________________________________
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Stay safe.