5 Reasons Stealing Is One Of The Worst Addictions Possible
The idea of being "addicted" to stealing automatically makes you want to call bullshit. "Hey, I like free stuff too, but I still pay for it. You know, because I'm not an asshole." But there are lots of people out there who compulsively steal stuff they can't even use, and even they don't know why. Like our source today, "Zack," who spent years stealing everything around him that wasn't nailed down (and then probably stole a claw hammer so he could pry up the rest of it). He says ...
The Urge Can Come Out Of Nowhere
Zack's first fall to temptation came many years ago and involved a church, Boy Scout uniforms, and an unsupervised kid. "My Boy Scouts troop was at some fundraiser festival, held in the parking lot of a church," says Zack, providing some desperately needed context. "I was left to attend the cash and stole one single dollar bill. A crisp George Washington. It was downhill ever since."
He never did get that Honesty merit badge.
After his grand theft dollar, Zack would mainly steal on a whim rather than out of necessity. "I stole everything: computers, cameras, digital projectors, even cars (two cars specifically; it was hard and not worth my time). This was in high school, mind you. I wasn't drinking or smoking (pot or otherwise); I wasn't even dating. ... A lot of what I stole ended up in the woods near the high school, off the path, because I sure as fuck wasn't taking my loot home, and I was a kid who didn't know how to pawn anything off. Yes, I was stealing just for the shit of it."
In conclusion, there's probably a very rich bear living it up somewhere in Zack's hometown.
"Do I shit in the woods? No, not since he stole that porta-potty."
Once Zack graduated from college, though, everything changed. Oh, he was still going through life like it was an abandoned mall during a zombie apocalypse, but by then he was ready to take his criminal activities to a whole new level.
Like With Any Addiction, You Have To Keep Upping The Dose
After graduation, Zack got a job at a clothing store run by, hands down, the worst judge of character in history. We're saying that not because they hired one career criminal but because they hired two. The other one was Zack's supervisor, who pretty much drafted him into the Major Leagues of theft.
"He was a confessed bank robber who spent some years in prison. We traded stories and that was it. ... Occasionally, we'd steal a shirt or a suit or help our friends out by giving away the merchandise. Our site had a pretty bad theft issue, so a missing Calvin Klein or two was expected. But our math was off; by the time we realized it, we were missing hundreds of thousands of dollars' worth of merchandise."
"Darn it, I think I misplaced the jeans department again." -World's Most Clueless Manager
This was the first time that Zack's crimes actually threatened to put him away in prison, so he and his supervisor did the only logical thing. They staged a burglary, making it look like someone broke into the store and stole a few hundred grand in pants and the like. The police bought it. To celebrate, Zack went right back to crime, because it's important to get a sense of normalcy after a scary experience like that.
"One day I scanned in a gift card for $100 when the power went out and came back on. The register had no record of the gift card's activation, so I went to scan it again. The register said it was already activated with a $100 balance." Basically, Zack discovered that by disconnecting the cash register at the right time, he could activate gift cards without any record that it ever happened. He found a way to literally make money appear out of thin air.
The gift (card) that keeps on giving.
"I giddily told my supervisor about the issue we did this dozens of times per week. We sold the gift cards at first. Then we realized we could take cash from customers in exchange for our goods, put the gift cards through the register to collect the sales and pocket the cash! By my count, we amassed over $100,000 cash in a matter of eight months."
Just so we are clear: Even though Zack wasn't exactly sprinkling caviar and saffron on his cornflakes, he wasn't strapped for cash either. So why did he steal all that money? Well ...
When You Try To Stop, You Go Through A Weird Kind Of Withdrawal
If anyone ever asks you for a spot-on yet depressing snapshot of addiction, feel free to send them the following quote:
"When I don't steal, which I promise I'm doing my best not to," Zack explains, "it's a lingering thought. If I pass up an opportunity, I'll think about it for days. I'll write about it on my Facebook, but I make sure that the privacy is set so only I can see it. Then, a year later, Facebook Memories will pop up reminding me of the loss, and I feel regret over not taking advantage of the situation."
Even sadder? He likes all his own posts.
Most people may regret things like loves lost or assholes un-punched, but Zack can relive the memory of not swiping loose grapes at the supermarket with roughly the same intensity. That doesn't excuse his crimes, obviously. Addiction or not, Zack does realize that it was wrong to steal all that money from his employers. It's just that his brain convinced him that not stealing it would have been ... wrong. Like "not wiping up after taking a shit" level wrong.
"It's hard to say what's going through my mind when I have the urge to steal. It's not as if I'm making cognitive decisions; these are knee-jerk, almost involuntary actions. This is something my therapist is trying to figure out with me. He asked if it felt like an out-of-body experience, if I'm watching myself do it, but I'm not. I'm doing it, these are my hands, my actions, and it's as automatic as sneezing."
"Gesundheit. Can I have my wallet back now?"
When You Get In Too Deep, The Cops Can Be Your Friend
One day, in a moment of clarity and/or paranoia, Zack decided to stop the gift card scam. When he told his partner about his change of heart, the guy took Zack aside and calmly talked him out of it by calmly sticking a gun into his stomach and explaining to him that he'll calmly murder him if he backed out. "He was my supervisor. That meant he had access to my employee records (address where I kept my family, my social security number, etc.). He explained the unfortunate events that would unfurl should I decline his offer. It was at that moment I knew I had to get the police involved."
"911? I'd like to commit ... sorry, force of habit. I would like to report a crime."
Zack's report to the cops was a sprawling masterpiece of bullshit. He painted himself as an innocent patsy at the mercy of a ruthless criminal mastermind and actually gained some respect for the police when they didn't buy a word of it. Still, due to a lack of evidence, the cops had no choice but to work with Zack to bring down his supervisor.
"The police sent an undercover cop in to pay cash for some pants. My boss, being my boss, took the cash, rushed the customer out, and proceeded to check out the transaction with a gift card. ... With some cash register data and my testimony, he was sent to jail for 18 months. I was sentenced to three years' probation." Yes, sometimes the system fails in just such a way as to be considered a partial win for justice! Hooray!
Now, did Zack regret having to turn in his ex-partner for a scheme that he came up with? Do you remember the part where the guy threatened to kill Zack? Well, there's your answer. So Zack learned his lesson, right? Isn't that how these cautionary tales always end?
There's a reason "ONE. LAST. JOB." is a movie cliche.
Like Any Addiction, It Never Fully Goes Away
What do you feel when you see mugshots of petty thieves? Is it pity? Contempt? A sudden realization that bad facial hair and crime might be connected somehow?
In Zack's case, he mainly feels, well, compassion. "You may call it survivor's guilt? I tend to watch a lot of crime dramas, and I'm always rooting for the bad guys. ... I obviously don't relate to rapists and murderers, but when I see mugshots of people that hold up 7-Elevens, I think, 'Those poor idiots. ... If I had been there, we wouldn't have our mugshots on TV.'"
Twenty bucks and a 99 cent hot dog is not worth five to 10.
See, deep down, Zack just has this strong desire to reach out to other criminals ... and help them steal without getting caught. "When I was a hiring manager for my current employer, my sympathy for these criminals extended to job applicants. I hired no less than five convicted criminals to work at my store. ... Each time it's bitten me in the ass. Being a thief makes it incredibly easy to catch thieves, which in turn makes me look good for catching them while stealing."
You probably noticed Zack referenced being a thief in the present tense there. Managing his theft urges is kind of like a recovering alcoholic trying to stay dry -- it's a continuing effort that involves things like keeping himself out of situations where temptation might occur. For example, he was recently promoted to a management position at his new job, far away from the cash. "Now I work on the corporate side of things. Truth be told, it's an honest struggle not stealing."
What would you even do with all those logo pens and cubicle walls?
You might think the higher salary would also make it unnecessary, but again, it was never about the money. It's about whatever weird little dopamine high his brain gets from the act. These days, he just has to satisfy it in small, less risky ways. "I try really hard not to let this compulsion complicate other aspects of my life, but it's there all the time. ... I recently bought a lot of food for a barbecue and went through self-checkout. Obviously I'm doing my best not to steal, but when I have a choice between a really cheap produce item and the expensive ones that I purchased, I may select the button on the screen that gives me the better price (I absolutely do this)."
Zack is a recovering thief who loves his fiancee enough to try harder. Cezary Jan Strusiewicz is a Cracked columnist, interviewer, and editor. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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