A Shoplifter’s Story

His case was theft. He willingly admits it every time he is caught because he never wanted to waste time in court hearings and, to hope for something, so that the duration of his sentence might possibly be even lesser than the minimum sentence of 6 months and 1 day. At the time when we talked, he got the minimum sentence, which for him was already the longest sentence he had received. His previous sentences would only last for 2-4 months. His struggles in his already-5-month stay in jail at that time made him excited to be released; not so that he might be free, but so that he can “shoplift” again. He liked the word – shoplifting – while explaining to me the degrees of the word theft (simple, qualified etc.). He was, according to him, “at home” in this level. He doesn’t recourse to pick-pocketing because he feels pity for his victims, especially the girls and old people. He doesn’t recourse to robbery because the sentence is too long. He resorts to theft alone because he doesn’t feel any remorse in stealing items from all SM and Robinson malls. In addition to that, the sentence is just fair enough, perhaps bearable, for him. He justified the richness of the owners of such malls and how it would not harm their immense wealth. These malls are, as he said it, “in the tips of his fingers”. Every day he would earn an average of 10-15 thousand pesos from the items he stole and the reselling it would gain him to simple retailers in places like Quiapo for the cheapest price. He was, in the expert level of the term, a thief. But he only operates on this profession (or call it expertise) for certain priorities – priorities that opened up the narrative of Johnny’s life.

There was a time in Johnny’s life when he quit stealing. That was when he decided to live a normal life with a woman he could love and build a future with. He married and had two daughters. They lived a simple life. He worked as a construction worker earning 840 pesos on a weekly basis, while his wife did other people’s laundry. They lived, in poverty’s standards, just enough for them and her two daughters to survive. He narrated that he was satisfied with that kind of life where he did not need to do bad things anymore. But even though he gives all his money to his wife, she was never satisfied. She needed to push him back to stealing just to satisfy her wants. The bottom-line was worse: she got addicted to drugs and every time she runs out of money, she would find consolation in a policeman who gives her benefits and whom she soon married after breaking up with Johnny. It was a complete tragedy.  He went miserable that from that time onward the only thing that kept him going was what he does best – theft.

Here we see a point of despair when, at the sight of this tragedy, Johnny’s life appears imprisoned, both inside and outside the walls of the jail. He was as if married to his profession. His stealthy operations defined his identity to the point of making it his life. It haunted him; it pushed him back over and over.

Nevertheless, there was something hopeful that he said to me in the end of our conversation (in Bisaya): “I know, brother, that someday I will completely leave this job behind and start anew again; perhaps I am just not good at girls.”  The humor in these lines pretty much attests to how he deals with his life. He was, despite his operations, happy with his life, because there is hope – there is a future. How encouraging can that be if we ourselves share this frame of mind? Many times we are pushed back to sin, over and over, back to our favorite vices, back to the bad things we do best. But with those lines that Johnny left we become hopeful to be good in dealing not with girls, but with God. Perhaps we too are still not good enough with God; with praising him and doing His will. We struggle, we fail, we feel our choices betrayed by how life would tragically turn out, but we also must have felt that urge to recover, to repent, until one day we too might completely leave our sinful selves and start anew again.

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