My mother taught me to steal

We want to be able to box like mom.. Play GO like dad, get their look, share their taste in music… See you at puberty We learn our values ​​and standards from a basic social framework. This is mainly because family, the only world we know as children. From that we build our social identity. But for many successive crises, lack of support or government inaction contributed significantly fragility of their homes. And this has an impact on how we develop, how we raise our children.

That’s true for Sandrine* (55), who taught her daughter Leah (now 30) to steal to make ends meet when she was younger and had a toddler. Today they are both social workers, and although they don’t have to anymore to steal In order to (survive) them, they still face this reality on a daily basis. They emailed us on Instagram to tell their story, and then we chatted.

VICE: Hi, how do you get in touch?
When I saw your Instagram post about Why do people steal I wanted to share my story. It’s something I’d never count on anyone, not even my partner knowing about. It was an opportunity to provide a little context for these situations and break away from the shoplifting cliches.

Is stealing something that has always been necessary for you?
It was necessary, but it was definitely not some kind of kleptomania. It was a necessity associated with the difficult moments in my life. I thought it was unfair for people to live comfortably when I couldn’t even buy basic services for my children. With a clear conscience, I went to shoplift in the supermarket. I just thought in my head: “They are believers, they recover easily enough from their losses.” After that it became almost a game of necessity.

Has it become more necessary when you have kids?
Yes, especially between the ages of twenty-five and thirty. I usually steal from Carrefour: baby clothes, a stroller, powdered milk … always full of nerves.

Do you remember what you stole the first time?
When i was very young i stole the beauty kit i wanted from the store and my mom gave me a shout out for it. She scared me into making me take her back to security. She had threatened to call the police in front of the staff, which shocked me.

But then I did it again.
Something has changed. It took my mom a while to realize that I knew it was wrong to steal, and that it wasn’t just a game. When my sister was born I was nine years old and we had to steal. Then she decided to let me help with her schemes.

“We didn’t have the ‘safety profile’, we were just a mother with her daughter and a baby in a pram.”

When you say help…
We have many technologies that we tested on site. I remember one of the first times it was in a clothing store and we needed pants. I went in and went to edit three of them, but I didn’t select any of them. My mother put it on her arm and then put on her big coat to hide it all. Sometimes I just put the clothes on under the clothes I was already wearing in the fitting room, without hanging them up. We can even put clothes in the stroller without anyone noticing.

Sandrine: It always works. We didn’t even have to hide. We walked slowly through the store doors and that was it. baby play.

Leah: Sad to say, but we didn’t have the “profile” for security, we were just a mom with her young daughter and baby in the pram. We got out without a problem. It makes me think of others who really have to run and who are nothing like us; They are more likely to be stopped, investigated and arrested.

So it didn’t end badly?
For me yes. I’ve been seriously busted before, but in the guards office we used to play good cop/bad cop when my mom came to get me. Then she played the angry mother who couldn’t believe her daughter was stealing things.

Sandrine: Which is kind of funny at times like this, because it’s exactly the kind of behavior guards expect from parents. It’s always the same: I took it easy at first, and they were the ones who made me yell at her, saying things like, “Do you think what your daughter is doing is right?” or “You should be tougher with her.” So I let them preach and then pretended to be angry at my daughter by yelling helpful phrases at her like “Wait till we get home” or “Wait until your dad hears about this, he’ll be less than happy.” It all went so smoothly and in the end most of the guards felt sorry for her.

Leah: That she “played” the angry mother calmed everyone down, we knew she was being deceitful and gave us some peace of mind in terms of security.

Was this a secret between you and mother and daughter?
It’s not something you can tell anyone. Because you have to understand, even if I quit today, my mom still steals.

Sandrine: Very few people in my personal circle would dare to talk about it. They do this mainly out of necessity. The most shoplifted is cheese and meat. I have friends who work in the supermarket and they tell me a lot has changed. It used to be mainly cosmetics, shaving products, and little things that you wouldn’t normally be able to afford. Today it is basically the basics. This is so sad, it reminds me of the times when I myself needed it. When I stole that stroller, it was because I really needed it. I had two kids to take care of and no money to buy anything. I did it because I felt entitled to it.

When you were little, did it feel wrong to steal something?
It’s hard to remember what was going through my mind at the time. But one thing is certain, the fact that I was under my mother’s watchful eye, I don’t know if that added to the pressure or legitimized it. I didn’t think about it, I just did what I had to do. In addition, it always happened very quickly, when I got to the cash register, I had to quickly put this one in my coat, and this one in my pocket. I hardly had time to think about it. And then you get some kind of adrenaline rush. I knew it was a mistake, and I should not have told about it at school, or to my father, or to anyone… I understood that there must be something secret about it, that it could only be shared between us. But I didn’t feel any regrets. I saw that my mother was going through a hard time. As I got older, as a teenager, it came in handy because there were so many things I wanted like designer clothes, makeup, and products that we couldn’t afford in our circumstances. So I helped myself by stealing.

“I wasn’t getting an extra allowance, and I didn’t have a penny of alimony. If her father died, we would at least still be entitled to an orphanage stipend.”

You really just wanted the things you should be able to afford, right?
In my workplace, I sometimes hear other women talk about their holidays, whether or not they want to extend their holidays, and whether Greece is better than Thailand. To hear something like that while you yourself are having a hard time feeding and dressing your children, it sounds like a form of aggression. Growing up like this is brutal. Then I ask myself the question. Which is worse: shoplifting or having to steal because you have no choice?

Leah: It’s a bit like asking what you’re actually entitled to. I used to get really upset when I saw people in my class at school wearing only designer clothes and actually walking around in front of us. I didn’t want to accept that I had to be content with little. For us, stealing was part of trying to climb the social ladder.

Sandrine: We didn’t regret that we wouldn’t get there. It’s part of me. I have bipolar disorder and had no treatment at the time, but stealing helped me. It gave me a lot of courage to do something like that, with my girls. In the heat of battle, you can do a lot. I had a very difficult childhood, I was short of everything, even food, I was always cold at night… I didn’t want my children to live the same life. If I had to kill to feed my kids, I would. And it’s not selfish either, because then I would have my kids steal things that weren’t mine, not powdered milk, a stroller, clothes… that were my family’s.

Of course, it wasn’t easy…
I have a neighbor who is a coke addict, smokes crack, steals from his family and friends, and gets caught a lot. But this is a completely different reality. When I go to the supermarket and see a homeless alcoholic or someone in recovery trying to steal alcohol, sometimes I want to help, wait at the exit and talk to them. Who am I to judge anyone? You steal out of necessity. People don’t steal for fun unless you have kleptomania, which is a mental illness.

If you look at where I come from, how does that relate to all of this in your childhood?
I now have two kids and they have absolutely no idea what I’ve done. I don’t suffer from anything and I wouldn’t want to raise them that way either. But I teach them about tolerance for all kinds of behaviors that are often looked down upon in our society. I think it’s important to understand that life is not black and white, there is no right/wrong ratio, life is not easy, and sometimes we do things because there is no other choice.

Sandrine: Society does not meet the needs of the people who live in it, but rather leaves them out in the cold. And it only gets worse. I work in the social sector and see families who have been living an increasingly precarious life since Corona. When I found out that they steal every day to make ends meet, I think this is normal. I was even interceding for them. Society also has a role to play. Restos du coeur is a great initiative, but unfortunately it is the government’s job to do something about this, not the citizens.

If he had seen me as a single mother with two children without a father to take care of them, it would have been so much better. But I never had the right to an increase in compensation and I did not have a single penny of alimony. At least if her father died we would still be entitled to an orphanage bonus. My daughters have my last name, I got nothing from their father and society didn’t care. If this is normal, I also think it is justified that I have restored the balance myself. If society fails you, we ourselves take care of the redistribution, the correction of the balance.

*The real names are known to the editors

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