When I was kicked out by my Dad, it was the beginning of a really hard time in my life. I always felt poorly. I had diarrhoea for ages because I wasn’t eating properly. The food I was eating came from a local supermarket where I was shoplifting twice a week.
I’d buy a loaf of cheap off-white bread. The meat, cheese, pack of sausages or whatever I was stealing was to fill sandwiches with. It’s not a healthy balanced diet when you’re having the same thing every day just to keep yourself going. Before I started stealing food, the only things I ate were the bread along with the potatoes, making chip sandwiches twice a day. A chip buttie is a treat, not a life diet. I had no way of getting money to buy anything decent and “sell-by” and “best before” dates had lost their meaning.
I think I got complacent and greedy. It was a normal day for me. I was taking it for granted that I could go into this shop and get food, and because I’d been successful for so long I wasn’t as careful as I had been at the start. I was taking advantage of how easy it was and gradually getting a bit bolder. I was only taking the food that I needed and it wasn’t something that I did all of the time. I didn’t need to do it everyday because I had got used to making things last a while. For some reason, that day I had a feeling of trepidation.
There’s a packet of eight Walls sausages in my right-hand coat pocket and as I progress closer to the checkout, I consider ditching them because it doesn’t feel right. I’m starting to wonder whether I actually need these sausages, as I’ve got some ham left in the fridge. For the next couple of days I’ll be okay.
I leave the checkout after paying for the bread and walk out of the supermarket. I’m still considering ditching my ill-gotten gains. I’m at the stage where I’m shoplifting to stock the shelves, not because there’s nothing whatsoever to eat. If I don’t steal something now, I’ll need to return in a few days time as the contents of my cupboards wouldn’t keep a flea alive for long. If I take these sausages, then I won’t need to pinch anything more for the rest of the week. I’m disgusted with myself for being here and want to get it over and done with.
The electric doors open, the sun hits my face and it dazzles me, disorientating my eyes and making me squint. I feel completely overdressed in the large heavy overcoat I use for shoplifting. I’m as obvious a shoplifter as Leeds had ever seen grace its retail aisles, but I’ve got big pockets in this coat and it has always served me well.
I feel really warm as I move off towards home, when I hear a male voice over my left shoulder: “Excuse me!!!”
I ignore it because it’s not directed at me. When I hear that voice repeat its query, it is unmistakably addressed towards me. I turn over my left shoulder and see a man who follows his interjection by introducing himself as a store detective.
My heart races and I feel a strong desire to run, but my feet remain planted to the pavement, glued by embarrassment. I feel the tension rise in my chest. There are normal everyday shoppers milling around, doing whatever they do at two o’clock in the afternoon. People wheeling around pre-school children, old people who shop to give themselves something to do, and I instantly feel self-conscious. I have no idea who any of them are and will probably never see any of them again, but I feel an overwhelming need to hide. I’ve been singled out, the spotlight had been turned from the film’s leading man to me, and I’m cast as the villain. People watch The Bill on TV and now courtesy of me they’re getting a live outside broadcast. I cannot muster the courage to run no matter how much I want to. There is no way to disguise what’s happening to me. There is no way I can smile and pretend this problem will go away.
I notice a lady, another store detective, who appears on my right-hand side and together with the first guy they escort me back around the shops perimeter, a good 40 metres, and into an office at the rear of the building. It’s not a long walk, but every step, every turn seems to take place in slow motion. The people at the checkout look at me as I pass. I’m led into the relative sanctuary of an office room and they close the door. It’s a small office and I’m glad to be here because the people outside can’t see me anymore. There are a couple of store detectives and the shop’s manager sitting behind a desk. I feel nervous, but relieved, knowing every second that passes means I’m fading from the memory of the people outside. They will forget what has happened and I’ll become a memory, another forgotten face in a crowd.
I’m uneasy, nervous, and unprepared. I’ve lost control. I’m appearing in this episode of The Bill, but no one’s given me the script and the director’s screaming “Action.” Thoughts run through my head, mainly involving damage limitation. I’m scared, still anxious, but that starts to subside as the reality of the situation I’m in starts to hit home. The adrenalin subsides as it starts to sink in that I’m in deep trouble.
They sit me in a chair next to a desk. No one talks or even looks at me. They speak to each other, but I’ve no idea what they are saying. It feels like I’m not there and this puts me on edge. They’ve gone to the effort of bringing me to this room and then they ignore me. One of them is on the phone and I’m confused about what’s going on. Something’s about to happen and I don’t know what. I’m watching their mouths, trying to lip read, and then I overhear the word police and for some reason the word startles me. I’m a 17-year-old kid, why are they calling the police? Don’t they want to talk to me and find out what happened?