‘The Autistic Shoplifter’ by Tom Clements (AKA ‘The Autistic Buddha’)

I honored that once again, Tom Clements (AKA “The Autistic Buddha”) has asked me to publish another one of his talented pieces.  I also offer my utmost sincere apologies for taking so long to catch up, as he had sent me this almost two weeks ago.  I’m eternally grateful for both his tapping me on the shoulder to provide his microphone and also for his endless patience with me in the time it took me to hand it over 🙂 ❤


Autistic people are often stereotyped as being scrupulously honest and law-abiding.  For the most part, that stereotype, as with any, does end up being true.  Except of course when it doesn’t.  For a whole year of my life, I substituted my growing isolation, loneliness and feelings of bitter resentment at the society that had rejected me because of my oddness with the raw thrill of getting away with breaking the law.  It’s not something I’m proud of, and yet it’s not something I deeply regret either.  Some small part of me still sympathises with my former criminal self.

It all started when I was in a supermarket close to the student digs I was living in at the time.  I saw the people I lived next door to buying beer and snacks for that evening.  They’d already had a few drinks by that time and were all merrily tipsy, had wrapped their arms around one another, and were laughing inanely at one another’s witty remarks.  They saw me, a lonesome figure in a faded red Manchester United jersey, ill-fitting burgundy tracksuit bottoms and luminous green sports shoes holding a shopping basket.  A girl from the group sniggered at me as she walked past, amused in her inebriated state at what she perceived to be my eccentric and childish dress sense.  Compared to me, they were all looking attractive, done up to the nines in expensive outifts and all had great hair (I was losing mine prematurely because of stress).  As the group bought their booze and exited, the girl who’d mocked me before shouted at the top of her voice: “Have fun, Dopey!”.  The group burst out laughing and walked away quite brazenly and without regard for my feelings.

Suffused with rage, I had dark thoughts of lashing out violently or perhaps even throwing a sharp object into one of their backs.  I was livid.  I felt as though in the space of a few minutes I had been rendered absolutely worthless as a human being. I n reality, I didn’t have a violent bone in my body to retaliate and nor was I able to think quickly enough to shout back a witty riposte.  Instead, I grabbed a chocolate bar, stuffed it in my pocket and left the store.  I felt after having been roundly humiliated that I was entitled something.  Not having any friends at university made me dwell on the event on my own for hours on end afterwards.  This of course only made things worse.

The next day, I saw one of the people in the group in the line for lunch at the university canteen.  This time he was sober and appeared much more civil than that Friday evening.  This alone annoyed me further that an otherwise sensible, smart person could go along with the crude teasing of another human being and not protest against it.  As rage built up inside me again, I grabbed a sandwich off the display without paying.  Nobody even batted an eyelid.  It felt good to get away with it and it felt even better to know that the douchebag who’d laughed at me was paying for his lunch and I wasn’t.

Before long, I wasn’t paying for any shopping.  At the Student Union shop, I’d hide in a secluded corner away from staff and security cameras and fill my backpack with all the food, drink and stationery supplies I wanted.  Walking out of the shop for the first time with a bacpack full to the brim with stolen goods, my heart felt as though it was pounding out of my chest I was so damned nervous.  But, as soon as I made it outside undetected, that nervousness turned to an indescribable rush of sheer elation.  And it was that rush that I kept craving over and over again.

Over the next year, I became bolder in my shoplifting exploits, stealing high-end food items such as truffles, albacore and even whole Iberico hams.  I became better and better at evading cameras and security staff and felt emboldened by every triumph.  That was until I became complacent and finally, after nearly a year of criminal activity, I got caught.  On the way home, I went to a local shop which I thought would be a nice, soft easy target for a bit of pilferage.  I didn’t have much space left in my bag so decided just to grab a jar of pasta sauce and a slice of parmesan cheese for dinner that evening.  Just as I was about to walk out, I felt a firm hand grab me.  A security guard with a take-no-shit attitude dragged me to the back room.  I felt the blood rush from my head and had rushing thoughts of a long stay behind bars.  Thankfully, the store manager decided the goods I’d attempted to steal weren’t enough to merit prosecution and I was let off the hook.  The hawk-eyed security guard literally threw me out of the shop and instructed me never to step foot in the store again.  My brief career as a petty criminal had officially ended.  I’d decided after that incident it was too risky.

I still don’t know why I started shoplifting but I suspect it enabled me in some strange way to wrestle back control over a society I’d become increasingly alienated and disillusioned by.  I stopped doing what I did not so much because I felt regret, but because I simply out of a fear of being caught again.  That said, it was a terrible road to go down and not one I recommend to anyone regardless of how bad they feel.


More About–and From–The Autistic Buddha:

 

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