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San Diego teens asked why they steal

It's cheaper than going out and buying

— According to the National Retail Federation, more the $25 million worth of goods is shoplifted each day. Teens between 13 and 17 account for 30 percent of shoplifters, even though they make up only 7 percent of the population. Their crimes account for $2.8 billion of losses annually.

Of those losses, the following local teens take their share.

AoxomoxoA, 18, Mission Valley

What do you steal and how do you steal it?

I used to steal books, cigarettes, and food; sometimes I would assist in stealing dresses so we could return them for cash. Books are decently easy; most bookstores have lax security. Food was probably the most difficult thing to steal. Most of it isn't very compact, and it's hard to conceal canned vegetables.

Why do you steal?

Sometimes you just have to steal to live. We never stole anything out of malice or frivolous things we had no use for - well, okay, maybe we didn't really need the cigarettes or some of the books - but we either ate the food we stole or sold whatever else we stole to buy food and pay for utilities.

Do you feel guilty about it?

I never really felt too guilty about it. I never stole from a cool store, only large stores that can afford to miss a few things here and there. It's kind of exciting. Sometimes I look back at some of the times we had stealing and I have to laugh.

Have you ever been caught?

Never been caught - not to say we couldn't be caught but, well, we were pretty good - it comes with practice.

Signman, 17, La Mesa

What do you steal?

Signs, lots and lots of signs. It can be simple signs, like cheap window stickers off of windows.

How do you steal?

Window stickers are easy, and I'm almost ashamed to say I steal them. Other signs, however, take planning. Other people help you, you bring the necessary tools, and if need be you climb up the pole to get them. Some signs are really big, and it would be rather obvious if you carried them away to your car. We've found using clothes to cover the signs is the best way. Hotels also offer signs, but I won't go into that.

Why do you steal ?

Partially the thrill. I would say more because we like signs; signs are really cool to have hanging in your room or even to brag about having to your friends. The odder the sign, the better. My oddest sign I have is a pizza sign - it fits on top of your car and lights up - courtesy of Domino's Pizza.

What do you do with the stolen items?

Hang them up in my room, show them off, trade them for better signs - perhaps those signs that I myself couldn't get, but someone else got them.

Do you feel guilty?

Not really. I don't feel like we are stealing from anybody that it would hurt.

Have you ever been caught?

My friend has been caught, but nothing happened; they just confiscated the signs - I was with my friend when it happened - asked some stupid questions and left us alone.

Jesse, 13, Spring Valley

What do you steal?

Anything I see that I like. I once stole some grape jelly from my friend because I thought it'd taste good. It sucked, so I just threw the jar away.

Why do you steal?

I don't know. Because it's cheaper than going out and buying shit. It's easier than the other options.

What do you do with the stolen items?

I put them to use. If I steal a radio, I listen to it. If I steal food, I eat it. If I steal money, I spend it. What else would I do?

Do you feel guilty?

Hell, no. No one's ever missed the shit I steal enough for me to feel bad over it. It satisfies me. I steal things I don't have or things I want more of. If I have that shit, why should I feel bad?

Have you ever been caught?

A few times, by my parents or my friends, but never at any store. It never mattered.

Kevin, 17, Encanto

What do you steal?

Nothing expensive or important. Just stuff from the 99 Cents Store, like cigarettes, candy, and stuff like that. Just whatever I want or need that is available; whatever party supplies I may need during the day.

How do you steal?

I use my head. Obviously, I can't jack a bottle of wine from the liquor store with my bare hands, so I'll bring my backpack in. Of course, a lot of stores won't let you bring backpacks into the stores anymore, but some still do.

Why do you steal?

To be perfectly honest, I steal for selfish reasons, mostly. I might steal for all of my friends, though. Like, if I jack a deck of cards, or something like that, we can all play and have fun. I take hair-clips and jewelry for my female friends.

What do you do with the stolen items?

Eat them, smoke them, drink them.

Do you feel guilty?

Not really. No one really needs the things I take. I don't think that taking things here and there really messes up anyone's life; it's all cheap stuff, anyway. It just happens to be cheap stuff that I want.

Have you ever been caught?

No, not yet. I'm hoping never to be caught, but, well, you can't ever be sure. I would like to think that I'm more careful than that. Sometimes, it's thrilling just to do it, simply because you might be caught. It can be exciting.

Caesar, 16, Encanto

What do you steal?

Whatever I can't get for free. If I could get it for free, there wouldn't be any point in taking it. I'm not one of those kleptomaniacs who does it, like, compulsively. I only do it, like, once a week. Me and my friends will go out and do it on a weekend.

How do you steal?

Pick it up, put it in my pocket, walk away. That's all it is.

Why do you steal?

Usually because I want to party, or because I want to get something for my girlfriend. Like a little teddy bear or a ring or something. She knows I do it; she likes it. She thinks it's just as nice as if I were buying her something, because, after all, jacking shit takes time and effort.

What do you do with the stolen items?

It depends on what the items are. If it's a gift for my girl, I'll give it to her. If it's a CD, I'll listen to it. I just put them to use in whatever way I want to, I guess.

Do you feel guilty?

Sometimes I feel guilty, but then I just say, RFuck it, there's more of this shit to go around for everyone.S There's no point in feeling guilty about it. That's not gonna get me anywhere.

Have you ever been caught?

Yeah, once. When I was a little kid - like, eight or nine years old - I stole some candy from the corner store. The owner just grabbed me as I was walking out, and I was so scared. He called my mom, and she grounded me and yelled at me and all that shit. For a month, my mom wouldn't let me forget it. It eventually passed over, and I haven't been caught since.

Pixie, 15, Spring Valley

What do you steal?

Makeup, nail polish, hair dye, clothes - the appropriate things for raves. I like all of the wacky colors I can paint on myself, but I don't have a steady job, so I can't pay for the stuff. My parents don't approve, so they won't buy any of it for me.

How do you steal?

Oh, it's pretty easy. I just take stuff and shove it in my bag when no one is looking, or tuck it up my jacket sleeve - wherever it fits, you know?

Why do you steal?

Because I wouldn't be able to express myself otherwise. The people around me - the people in this society - stifle individuality. I know it sounds pathetic, but it's very true. Why can't a purple-haired girl get hired anywhere? I guess it's sort of my last resort.

Do you feel guilty about stealing?

Very much so. If there were any other way to acquire these things without sacrificing my personality, I'd do it. I don't really do it on a regular basis. It's usually a spur-of-the-moment kind of thing, and I can't say I do it more than once per month.

Have you ever been caught?

Not yet. Of course, I'm not a professional or anything; it's not like I've been practicing the art of stealing all of my life. It just kind of...happens. What am I going to do, go turn myself in because I wanted to paint my toenails blue? It's just not worth it.

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Two poems by Julia Wehner

A reminder of how richly good it is to feel, and to live

— According to the National Retail Federation, more the $25 million worth of goods is shoplifted each day. Teens between 13 and 17 account for 30 percent of shoplifters, even though they make up only 7 percent of the population. Their crimes account for $2.8 billion of losses annually.

Of those losses, the following local teens take their share.

AoxomoxoA, 18, Mission Valley

What do you steal and how do you steal it?

I used to steal books, cigarettes, and food; sometimes I would assist in stealing dresses so we could return them for cash. Books are decently easy; most bookstores have lax security. Food was probably the most difficult thing to steal. Most of it isn't very compact, and it's hard to conceal canned vegetables.

Why do you steal?

Sometimes you just have to steal to live. We never stole anything out of malice or frivolous things we had no use for - well, okay, maybe we didn't really need the cigarettes or some of the books - but we either ate the food we stole or sold whatever else we stole to buy food and pay for utilities.

Do you feel guilty about it?

I never really felt too guilty about it. I never stole from a cool store, only large stores that can afford to miss a few things here and there. It's kind of exciting. Sometimes I look back at some of the times we had stealing and I have to laugh.

Have you ever been caught?

Never been caught - not to say we couldn't be caught but, well, we were pretty good - it comes with practice.

Signman, 17, La Mesa

What do you steal?

Signs, lots and lots of signs. It can be simple signs, like cheap window stickers off of windows.

How do you steal?

Window stickers are easy, and I'm almost ashamed to say I steal them. Other signs, however, take planning. Other people help you, you bring the necessary tools, and if need be you climb up the pole to get them. Some signs are really big, and it would be rather obvious if you carried them away to your car. We've found using clothes to cover the signs is the best way. Hotels also offer signs, but I won't go into that.

Why do you steal ?

Partially the thrill. I would say more because we like signs; signs are really cool to have hanging in your room or even to brag about having to your friends. The odder the sign, the better. My oddest sign I have is a pizza sign - it fits on top of your car and lights up - courtesy of Domino's Pizza.

What do you do with the stolen items?

Hang them up in my room, show them off, trade them for better signs - perhaps those signs that I myself couldn't get, but someone else got them.

Do you feel guilty?

Not really. I don't feel like we are stealing from anybody that it would hurt.

Have you ever been caught?

My friend has been caught, but nothing happened; they just confiscated the signs - I was with my friend when it happened - asked some stupid questions and left us alone.

Jesse, 13, Spring Valley

What do you steal?

Anything I see that I like. I once stole some grape jelly from my friend because I thought it'd taste good. It sucked, so I just threw the jar away.

Why do you steal?

I don't know. Because it's cheaper than going out and buying shit. It's easier than the other options.

What do you do with the stolen items?

I put them to use. If I steal a radio, I listen to it. If I steal food, I eat it. If I steal money, I spend it. What else would I do?

Do you feel guilty?

Hell, no. No one's ever missed the shit I steal enough for me to feel bad over it. It satisfies me. I steal things I don't have or things I want more of. If I have that shit, why should I feel bad?

Have you ever been caught?

A few times, by my parents or my friends, but never at any store. It never mattered.

Kevin, 17, Encanto

What do you steal?

Nothing expensive or important. Just stuff from the 99 Cents Store, like cigarettes, candy, and stuff like that. Just whatever I want or need that is available; whatever party supplies I may need during the day.

How do you steal?

I use my head. Obviously, I can't jack a bottle of wine from the liquor store with my bare hands, so I'll bring my backpack in. Of course, a lot of stores won't let you bring backpacks into the stores anymore, but some still do.

Why do you steal?

To be perfectly honest, I steal for selfish reasons, mostly. I might steal for all of my friends, though. Like, if I jack a deck of cards, or something like that, we can all play and have fun. I take hair-clips and jewelry for my female friends.

What do you do with the stolen items?

Eat them, smoke them, drink them.

Do you feel guilty?

Not really. No one really needs the things I take. I don't think that taking things here and there really messes up anyone's life; it's all cheap stuff, anyway. It just happens to be cheap stuff that I want.

Have you ever been caught?

No, not yet. I'm hoping never to be caught, but, well, you can't ever be sure. I would like to think that I'm more careful than that. Sometimes, it's thrilling just to do it, simply because you might be caught. It can be exciting.

Caesar, 16, Encanto

What do you steal?

Whatever I can't get for free. If I could get it for free, there wouldn't be any point in taking it. I'm not one of those kleptomaniacs who does it, like, compulsively. I only do it, like, once a week. Me and my friends will go out and do it on a weekend.

How do you steal?

Pick it up, put it in my pocket, walk away. That's all it is.

Why do you steal?

Usually because I want to party, or because I want to get something for my girlfriend. Like a little teddy bear or a ring or something. She knows I do it; she likes it. She thinks it's just as nice as if I were buying her something, because, after all, jacking shit takes time and effort.

What do you do with the stolen items?

It depends on what the items are. If it's a gift for my girl, I'll give it to her. If it's a CD, I'll listen to it. I just put them to use in whatever way I want to, I guess.

Do you feel guilty?

Sometimes I feel guilty, but then I just say, RFuck it, there's more of this shit to go around for everyone.S There's no point in feeling guilty about it. That's not gonna get me anywhere.

Have you ever been caught?

Yeah, once. When I was a little kid - like, eight or nine years old - I stole some candy from the corner store. The owner just grabbed me as I was walking out, and I was so scared. He called my mom, and she grounded me and yelled at me and all that shit. For a month, my mom wouldn't let me forget it. It eventually passed over, and I haven't been caught since.

Pixie, 15, Spring Valley

What do you steal?

Makeup, nail polish, hair dye, clothes - the appropriate things for raves. I like all of the wacky colors I can paint on myself, but I don't have a steady job, so I can't pay for the stuff. My parents don't approve, so they won't buy any of it for me.

How do you steal?

Oh, it's pretty easy. I just take stuff and shove it in my bag when no one is looking, or tuck it up my jacket sleeve - wherever it fits, you know?

Why do you steal?

Because I wouldn't be able to express myself otherwise. The people around me - the people in this society - stifle individuality. I know it sounds pathetic, but it's very true. Why can't a purple-haired girl get hired anywhere? I guess it's sort of my last resort.

Do you feel guilty about stealing?

Very much so. If there were any other way to acquire these things without sacrificing my personality, I'd do it. I don't really do it on a regular basis. It's usually a spur-of-the-moment kind of thing, and I can't say I do it more than once per month.

Have you ever been caught?

Not yet. Of course, I'm not a professional or anything; it's not like I've been practicing the art of stealing all of my life. It just kind of...happens. What am I going to do, go turn myself in because I wanted to paint my toenails blue? It's just not worth it.

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