Life, Strange Times, & Redemption on a Sea of Change

I recall one particular theft, an expensive wrench. I was extremely upset—not only because the item was lost…because I’d displayed it in an accessible area.” 

We’ve all seen news clips of “smash and grabs” at major retailers where a horde of shoplifters enters a business and begins looting the place. One scene repeatedly shown depicts several hooded perpetrators wielding sledgehammers at a jewelry case, gathering up the diamonds, then running out the door. Big stores such as Target and Walgreens have announced closures in some urban centers, citing theft as the reason for shutting the doors. Local news outlets feature small businesses that have been affected in similar ways. The commentary accompanying these clips often points out the failure of our justice system to adequately prosecute this blatant thievery. A crime surely has been committed—but where is the punishment? In San Francisco, the DA most likely won’t prosecute a shoplifting crime unless it exceeds $900.
These are strange times we are living in.

I’ve been the owner of a small business, Mid County Auto Supply, since the early 1970s. Needless to say, our store has been victimized by shoplifters on many occasions. Never on the grand scale of what you might see today on TV, but nonetheless, a disheartening experience when you discover valuable merchandise missing from a peg hook or gone from a shelf. It can be quite demoralizing to ponder the fact that someone willingly stole something from you.
I recall one particular theft, an expensive ratcheting torque wrench, that disappeared one day. I was extremely upset, not only because of the lost item but because I had naïvely displayed the wrench in an accessible area of the store. How could I be so dumb?! From that day forward, I made sure to keep most tools behind the parts counter or in a glass case.
About a year after the incident, a funny thing happened.

A young man walked into the store and asked to speak privately to the owner. He seemed nonthreatening, so I invited him into the office and offered him a seat.

He didn’t sit down but instead reached into his pocket and pulled out a $100 bill, explaining that he had taken a torque wrench from the store and, because of a consuming sense of guilt ever since, wanted to make amends and pay up.

I was surprised by his confession and remorse. I was also surprised at myself when I told him to keep the money—that his atonement spoke of his character and the act of coming into the store to do the right thing was enough for me.

He thanked me and left, but our little exchange is something neither of us will ever forget.
Around that same time, we had a customer named “Tiny.” Tiny was a rather large individual with massive arms and hands that could probably crush a golf ball. He worked as a mechanic at a local gas station in Aptos. Tiny had an old Ford Ranchero that needed a short block—basically a new engine without the cylinder head. He had no money, so we sold the short block on credit. The bill came to $450. Then Tiny disappeared. No one knew his whereabouts, not even his former employer.

I figured we just got taken, and we wrote off the loss on our taxes that year. But it continued to disturb me, since I figured Tiny to be a good guy.
Well, lo and behold, about two years later, Tiny walks into the store. He’s well-dressed with a sheepish smile on his clean-shaven face. He comes to the office door, filling most of the space with his barrel-chested frame, and proceeds to count out $500—remittance for his engine, plus interest. He apologizes profusely for such a late payment and starts telling me about his life over the past two years. It’s a tale of overcoming the obstacles life has thrown at him—falling into debt, moving to Reno, sleeping in his car, eating cold beans from cans, and eventually getting a job at a casino, where, after constantly working two shifts, he’s able to get lodging and save a little money. He is now a pit boss at Harrah’s. During those two years, he confessed his main goal was to repay all his debts, and Mid County Auto was at the top of the list. To say the least, I was moved and accepted the $500—one did not argue with Tiny.

There must be a consequence for stealing, and I’m all for some form of punishment for crimes committed, even small ones, because lessons should be learned from small mistakes before they become large ones.  Action must be taken so that responsible parties are held accountable and as a deterrent for repeat offenses. Our neighborhoods deserve to be safe places for people to live, work, and play. Nothing degrades our communities more than lawlessness—this has been proven throughout history.

But the truth is redemption is never far away.  Those people you see on TV who ransack department stores and create neighborhood havoc are capable of recovery, of altering their behavior, just as a single shoplifter or credit thief can search his/her inner conscious, rise, and do the right thing. Society’s crime problem, petty and otherwise, won’t be eliminated, but I suspect some solutions can be found in strong families, responsible consequences, and educational opportunities.

I recall one particular theft, an expensive wrench, which disappeared. I was extremely upset, not only because of the lost item but because I had displayed it in an accessible area of the store.

Images extracted from The Storm on the Sea of Galilee by Rembrandt van Rijn, 1633. Public domain. Formerly part of the collection of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston. Stolen from the museum on 18 March 1990. Whereabouts currently unknown. Source image: Wikimedia Commons [[File:Rembrandt Christ in the Storm on the Lake of Galilee.jpg|Rembrandt_Christ_in_the_Storm_on_the_Lake_of_Galilee]]

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One Comment
  1. Mike Crook

    Growing up on rosedale,there were pumpkin patches I was in that patch for the write one when a Capitola officer drives up took me to our house told my parents what I was doing. When dad gets home from marched me to confess my crime.the owner of vegetable stand had me pay a25cents for the pumkin.ana I didn’t have go jail lesson learned

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