The Master Shoplifter

The Master Shoplifter.

Andy, a dashing youngster, always dressed in luxury-labeled clothes, was 15 years old, when he was sent to see me. He came from a family that could never afford his seemingly extravagant lifestyle. After his school hours, he took on a part-time job in an upscale part of the city, and worked odd hours to supplement his meager allowance from his mother. He was initially uncooperative and resistant to counselling. He sat silently through the initial sessions with me, tight-lipped and unresponsive to my explorative attempts at getting to grips with his defiance. Then I turned my attention in admiration for his taste in clothing, and it opened up a world that I could not imagine this impressionable young man held within him.

He began describing the different quality of cloth that went into making luxury clothing, the differences in haberdashery material and needlecraft superiority that was discernible just by a casual examination of a piece of tailored wear. He impressed me with his knowledge on the top fashion houses and their designers around the world. There was no doubt he had picked up an immense store of knowledge during his part-time stints at numerous couture outlets. Then we got down to his expensive-looking clothes and how he acquired them. I got the silent treatment again! Despite initial reassurances that our conversations were confidential and would remain within the counselling room, he was not easily convinced, as he had been betrayed time and again in the past. We further explored the basis of confidentiality in my line of vocation, and worked through the different scenarios he had raised of breaches in confidence that he anticipated, until he was satisfied. Although I thought that I understood his concerns, I was totally unprepared for what he was about to divulge.

Andy had been a habitual shoplifter since his early teens, and he was so good at it that he had a team of boys and girls working with him; and none had been caught thus far, as they worked in small groups of threes. He would never target the store that he was working at, but would shoplift in these very stores once he had left them to work elsewhere. He took a fancy not only in luxury clothes and its accessories, but also pricey toys, rare decorative tableware and showpieces, jewelry, watches, and even a bulky antique leather stool – anything valuable that caught his eye. He would sell them, if he did not want to keep them. In all, he had stolen about $25,000 worth of items. I was flabbergasted! I was worried for him and the companions he had trained to help him steal. Did his mother not suspect where these things came from? He told her he had bought them with money from part-time jobs. An immediate agreement that we made was a temporary cessation of his shoplifting escapades during our counselling duration.

Andy’s parents were estranged from each other; he hardly knew his father, who rarely visited them. The attention and affection that he deeply craved were never met at home, as his mother worked two jobs in order to support her three children; there was no alimony or support from her former husband. Andy gravitated towards a group of like-minded youth, and one day discovered that he could shoplift quite adroitly. He lapped up the admiration from his group of friends, and it further drove him, and them, in their wanton shoplifting jaunts every weekend. It took a while for Andy to come to terms in recognition of his need for a father figure’s attention and love, and to have them met in appropriate ways. Inadvertently, I became that temporary surrogate in the years that Andy remained in counselling.