He was busted. He had tried
to run away when he was caught with a pair of Leviís he had shoplifted
from one of our stores, but two of our faster employees had chased him for
two blocks and tackled him.
Now he was sitting in our warehouse
office, waiting for the police to arrive and haul him away.
He wasnít young, he wasnít old.
Probably in his early 30s, at the beginning of his peak income-producing
years. But he had given up a long time ago.
He was a professional, but he had
chosen a risky trade. He had a shopping bag full of merchandise from other
stores, all of it stolen. It added up to about $500 worth of goods.
We had been after him for awhile, and
now we had him. I came out of my office to take a good look at the guy who
had been brazenly stealing from us for weeks, if not months. I wanted to
see him squirm.
We had handcuffed him, even before the
police arrived. He was slumped in a chair, his legs outstretched. I stared
at him, saying nothing. He looked at me, then looked away. I was
surprised. There was no bravado, no cockiness, no defiance.
The look on his face was something I
never expected. His only expression was one of unmistakable sadness.
I listened as the employee who tackled
him berated the shoplifter for choosing to steal instead of honest work.
"Why donít you get a job?" our employee shouted.
The shoplifter sighed, raising his head
briefly. "Iíve tried," he whispered. "Nobody will hire
The police arrived and took a full
report. The shoplifter had no middle name. He couldnít remember the room
number where he was living in the transient hotel. He said he was not on
parole or probation. He wasnít carrying any weapons.
The police took him out to the street and put
him in the back of the patrol car, still handcuffed. I volunteered to keep
an eye on him while the police took a report from the employees.
Again, I caught his eye before he
looked away. This young man was clearly defeated. I donít think he was
sad because he got caught. No, he gave me the unmistakable impression he
was sad because life was such a monumental struggle.
It was at that point that I first
thought about giving this guy a job. Our busy season was fast approaching
and we had a couple of entry-level positions opening up. Both started at
$5.50 per hour, standard for our industry.
The shoplifter, sitting so
disconsolately in the back of the squad car, hands clasped behind his
back, may need nothing more than a break. I could give him a job, even at
the paltry wage of $5.50 per hour, and watch him grow.
I could work with him, watch him
closely, talk to him. And most of all, I could give him hope. He seemed
bright enough, presentable enough, courteous enough. If I could just give
him a start, who knows? The sadness might lift.
My general manager walked up and I
cautiously mentioned the idea of hiring the shoplifter to him. We looked
into the patrol car and he glumly glanced back, knowing we were discussing
"Iíll be back," said my
general manager. He returned a minute later with a stack of papers an inch
"We put a ĎHelp Wantedí sign
in the window four days ago," he said. "No ad in the paper, just
walk-by applicants. So far, weíve received about 70 applications for our
entry-level positions. And not one of them," he continued,
"shoplifts for a living, as far as I know."
I thumbed through the applications. I
donít do the hiring for entry-level positions, and I had lost touch.
People from all walks of life, most eminently qualified, many
over-qualified, all with permanent addresses and excellent references,
were applying for the $5.50 per hour position.
These people were out there trying, and
trying hard. Out of 70 initial applicants, we might call eight for
interviews and hire two Ė two lucky people who could earn $5.50 per
hour. The rest would trudge on, filling out more applications, following
every lead, until someone offered them a job.
The police had finished and were
getting in the car. I looked at the shoplifter again. He was as sad as
And as I watched the police car drive away,
so was I.