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I’ve never really shoplifted before, but yesterday I accidentally stole a t-shirt from a big retail chain. Basically, I was paying for a bunch of clothing at the checkout, and noticed the cashier didn’t ring up a t-shirt at the bottom of my basket. She rang up everything else and put the stuff in a shopping bag on top of the unpaid-for t-shirt. I sort of noticed what had happened, but instead of saying anything I just walked out and went home. Now I have this t-shirt that I feel like I accidentally stole, but I also feel like it was kind of the store’s fault for not noticing it. It’s a huge chain store, so it’s not like this one shirt is going to hurt them too much. Is it fine to just keep it? I feel weird about it.
Dear Accidental Shoplifter,
I used to shoplift all the time. In fact, I went out of my way to try and steal, cheat, and scam people as much as I could — strangers or friends, no one was safe from my insatiable capacity for trickery. This was during my teenage years, and a lot of my motivation was purely sinister. I liked to do bad things specifically because they were wrong and hurtful.
Then one day I was mugged at knife point. I was 19 years old and had been living in New York for about a year. It was 3:30 in the afternoon and I was getting off the subway at 3rd Avenue to go to work at the Kim’s Video on St Mark’s Place. As I was walking up the stairs out of the station, a guy pushed me against the wall and put a steak knife in my face. He said, “I’m no joking, man! I’m not joking!”, and proceeded to ask me for my cash and watch and subway tokens. I gave him what he wanted without resistance.