Old Thief Want to Repay Victims
March 27, 2007 11:39 PM   Subscribe

When I was younger I stole some stuff from a store and I want to make reparations now, how do I do this?

The store went under a long time ago, and I have no way to track down the owner. There is a parent corp but that debt is settled.

I peg the value of these items at about $240, and I will adjust this amount to $500 for interest. Since this happened, I have done a fair amount of good things but this bothers me. A legal confession at this point would not be taken seriously (and even if it was, would be a juvenile offence which I would probably dodge - no witnesses). I don't really know much about the owner other than his rough age, first name, and that he was South Asian.

I will not contribute to any political or religious organization, and have done several months worth of full time volunteer work - so I don't think this is the answer. Can anyone advise me on how to make amends? Bonus points if you can answer this from a neo-pagan religious viewpoint.
posted by Deep Dish to Religion & Philosophy (36 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
It's fine that it bothers you, but wanting to 'make amends' is the wrong approach, I'd venture. It seems to me not to be as much that you want to make up the damage done to the other person/company (which, in the greater scheme of things is minimal, and only financial, which is almost without meaning), but to minimize the bad feelings you still have as a result of your theft.

My advice is to live just with it, though I guess it's not all that helpful. All of us have done bad things, most of us regret having done them, but we've got to live with them. Hell, I'll find myself paralyzed by horror occasionally when something will remind me of an unkind word or action I committed decades ago, even things that I have taken care in the intervening years to try to make amends for.

Trying retroactively to compensate the 'victim' (I use quotes because it's a grandiose word here, I think) is a noble desire, but I don't think it would make much difference to your feelings, nor to him.

When you do or have done bad things and you want to think of yourself as a good person, and try to be one, you're going to feel bad about it sometimes. That's the way it should be, and that's one of the things that hopefully keeps us from doing any more bad things in the future.

That said, if it were $20,000 and it was conclusively clear that your theft had destroyed that person's livelihood, my answer might be different. But that's certainly not the case here.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 12:00 AM on March 28, 2007

Forget about it and move on. we all do stupid stuff when we're younger.

The best way to make reparations in a case like this is to learn your lesson and don't do it any more.
posted by Ookseer at 12:02 AM on March 28, 2007

Donate the amount to a worthy cause.
posted by frogan at 12:08 AM on March 28, 2007

How about a consumer-type donation, like Toys for Tots, or Art supplies for your local school or clothing for a local shelter? Something where you'd have to go shopping and spend that amount (helping those businesses, and helping kids/people at the same time?)
posted by amberglow at 12:14 AM on March 28, 2007

I can't believe no one has mentioned this yet, but how about he goes to the store a couple of times and stocks up on tons of household supplies/foods/snacks there. The profit margin that the owner will be able to earn him will be an easy way to pay him back without burdening the owner with the confession of theft or raising any legal issues.
posted by gregb1007 at 12:18 AM on March 28, 2007

Greg, he mentions the store went under - so it's closed down and he can't just directly shop there.
posted by Phire at 12:20 AM on March 28, 2007

Nobody has mentioned it because the Asker said "the store went under a long time ago."
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 12:21 AM on March 28, 2007

Best answer: How about this:

You basically have $240 (or $500, if you want), which you don't deserve, karmically-speaking. You know this; that's why you feel guilty. It's your spirit's way of saying "Things are out of balance."

The best way to bring back the balance is to give that amount someone who does deserve it. Who? You will have to do what your spirit says is right; you'll have to let yourself be guided by the same inner voice.

Maybe you know someone who's a good person but has hit some bad luck, who could really use that money. Maybe you know an artist who deserves wider recognition that he's not getting; buy one of his paintings with that money. Maybe you do know some charity that you feel is doing what's right. Maybe the money could buy a tree you could plant, or books for a library.

Or just pick someone totally at random; a waiter, a bum on the street, another South Asian shopkeeper... Just drop the whole wad in their lap and walk away. Let it change -their- life. Let Fate, the Gods/Goddess, chaos, karma, who or whatever your neopagan heart trusts to... let that have the reins, and just put the money back into the world, and out of your worry.

And once it's gone... breathe, relax, and know it's done. Say a prayer of forgiveness and closure for youself if that's what you would do, and maybe add a blessing for whoever has the money now, and know that you did right. You stole, you tried to make reparations but couldn't, and in the end, you did not keep your gains so you are back where you started. Balance is restored. Be at peace.
posted by Rubber Soul at 12:48 AM on March 28, 2007 [11 favorites]

Something that you said caught my attention: that there was a parent corp & the debt was paid. Are we to assume that this was a franchise of some sort? Personally (& I'll freely state that I am a lunatic w. too much time on my hands) I would try searching varied databases for the business licenses and bus. debt associated with the store (lexis-nexis, local gov'n) and then match said info from that search to current available info on databases. Now, you might have to drop one to two hundred in added costs to a firm to help you search for the current address of the proprietor; it's not easy to get good current credit based info if you are not in the appropriate field but it can be done if your desire is strong enough and your wallet flexible enough.

I'd most likely find the most emotionally wrenching charity cause that I could and give them double or perhaps treble the original amount.

Good luck.
posted by rhymesinister at 2:31 AM on March 28, 2007

Rubber Soul, that seems karmically really....interesting and all, but I think AmberGlow's suggestion is the only way to really "make amends" at this point. I would donate some of your money and time to a good cause. If you can relate it back to the items you stole, even better. I.e. if you took toys, do Toys for Tots, as AmberGlow suggests. If you stole electronic equipment, find a needy children's program in your area and buy them a digital camera, etc. etc.

I would also take Ookseer's advice. You've learned from it-- move on. Youthful transgressions are just that. No biggie.
posted by sneakin at 3:18 AM on March 28, 2007

Have you tried calling the parent company and saying, "I'm trying to get in touch with one of your franchisees" -- or whatever the case is -- "who operated you XYZ store in such and such a year; I think his name was..." ? They might have no records, or refuse to help you, but especially if you have a good story (and "I was a teenage shoplifter and now I want to apologize" is a good story, or you can make up a better one) they might put you in touch with him. Then if you can get in touch with him, you can offer to give him the money (since he was apparently the one you hurt). If he refuses, you can then make your decision about what to do next.

Failing that, I agree that your goal is to put this aspect of your life back into balance, probably by giving away the $500 you feel you stole. The easy solution is to say, "donate it to a cause that has meaning to you." But if you are looking for penance, rather than just simple redress, you will need to do more than just give away the cash. I don't know whether the idea and practice of penance is well developed in neo-pagan belief, but it certainly is in more established religions, so you would have some models if you wanted to take that path.
posted by Forktine at 3:43 AM on March 28, 2007

nth giving it to a worthy cause. How about some group that helps troubled youth?
posted by jtfowl0 at 4:10 AM on March 28, 2007

Best answer: You took stock from a business, which essentially took money out of the pocket of the owner. That made it harder for him to continue to do business, and you want to make amends for it. You might not be able to track him down, but you can help continue the small-scale entrepreneurship that he was involved in: find one of those online sites that does microfinance loans, and support another entrepreneur who is trying to start a small business.

Make amends by continuing the cycle of good, not by addressing past foolish moments.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 4:18 AM on March 28, 2007 [2 favorites]

Plant a shitload of trees.
posted by pompomtom at 4:29 AM on March 28, 2007 [3 favorites]

I can completely understand your desire to make it up specifically to the person you feel you've wronged, but I think the posters above who suggest giving the money to a charity of your choice are giving the best advice.

I don't think I can help you on the neo-pagan front, but part of the price you have to pay for having any sort of morals is feeling bad about the times you've broken your own moral code - in other words, the flip side of 'virtue is its own reward' is 'sin is its own punishment'. Feeling bad is part of that punishment.

If the original business is long gone and you can't get hold of the owner without doing something creepy-stalkerish, give the money to someone in need and chalk it up to experience.
posted by backOfYourMind at 5:37 AM on March 28, 2007

I like jtfowl0's suggestion (giving it to a group that helps troubled youth), with a twist. How about posing this question to a group of schoolkids? Maybe a Boys and Girls Club? Have them help you to think this through.

You seem to have come full circle from your experience and have come to some conclusions about what happened. That's pretty valuable. So, pass along the experience.
posted by jeanmari at 6:33 AM on March 28, 2007

I mean this in a nice way: Get over yourself! It's 'yourself' that's causing all the troubles. Adolescent larceny is practically a rite of passage; it goes back at least as far as Augustine's theft of peaches, which was itself a reference to the Adam and Eve story and the stolen fruit of knowledge.

The real question is whether you take yourself to be the same person who stole the goods. Does that self-centered approach to the world still invade your daily life? The tone of this question indicates that you still take it that the world owes you things. The best way to make amends is to honestly want to change, not to settle up on some cosmic spreadsheet. Identify the exact nature of your moral failings and endeavor to be better than you were.
posted by anotherpanacea at 6:57 AM on March 28, 2007

Sponsor a writing contest for schoolkids.

Have them write an essay on how to make amends if they committed something wrong.

First/Second/Third prize $250/$150/$100.

You get a whole group of children to think about their ethics, you get to read a likely wide and varied take on making amends, you reward hard work and effort by the winners, and you rid yourself of these funds in as highly ethical and positive of a way as is probably humanly possible.

If this doesn't seem feasible or if you are just too lazy to do this, then I'm with Rubber Soul above. Find a waitress that seems to be working really hard, maybe during casual conversation you find out she has children, no wedding ring... and drop it in her lap. $500 can mean an awful lot to a lot of people.
posted by Ynoxas at 8:08 AM on March 28, 2007 [2 favorites]

Perhaps the term you're looking for is restitution. The city may have records of who owned or rented a property or had a business license at a given time, and you might be able to find the business owner that way.

If you are unable to find the owner, the city or state may have a victim's compensation fund. The money usually goes to victims of violent crimes, not financial, but it seems a close fit. The Police Dept. should be able to help you.

I used to own a store, and getting restitution after many years would be pretty cool.
posted by theora55 at 8:12 AM on March 28, 2007

Spend half of it hiring a detective to find the old owner. Give the other half to the owner as cash. Have the private detective give him the money without explanation or without specific information. Call it a day.
posted by damn dirty ape at 8:12 AM on March 28, 2007 [1 favorite]

Best answer: You put a small business owner at a disadvantage. You should help out a similar owner of a new small business, without the gain to yourself of using what you purchase at that business. Find a small store whose owner is just starting out that sells something a charity can use, buy that at the store, and donate it to the charity.
posted by yohko at 8:15 AM on March 28, 2007

Let me confess something: When I was 13, I stole $20 from my sister's desk to go buy a porno mag and a cassette tape from a guy at school. I thought about it all through my high school years, but was never motivated to make amends. When I got to college, I started feeling really horrible about it.

Here's what I did: I never told her what I had done. I figured it would just make her mad. Instead, I bought her a nice dinner every time she came back into town, and got her a very nice birthday present every year.

Our relationship was a bit strained when I started doing this, but improved as the years went on. I think I probably got her gifts for about 7 years, at which point we both decided birthday presents were crap and it's better to just let the other know he/she is special.

She still gets dinner from her bro every month (she lives in my city now), and we couldn't have a better relationship. I've probably spent 100 times that original $20, and will keep doing so until I have to stop or I'm dead. Seeing my sister happy makes me happy. In a way, that initial theft led to us having a much stronger bond as siblings than we would have had if I had not acted as a result of my guilt.

Maybe in lieu of making reparations to this business, choose someone in your life as a proxy, and use the money on that person. Your relationship will improve, and you'll feel a lot better as a result. And who knows, maybe you'll be like me and keep on doing it.
posted by reenum at 8:16 AM on March 28, 2007 [2 favorites]

From a hippydippy itinerant western Buddhist perspective, you need to accept the struggle and stop struggling against it. You've done everything you could to pay back the specific person you wronged, so stop struggling against that.


Now you have 500 dollars to make the world better, period. Go make the world better.
posted by headspace at 8:22 AM on March 28, 2007

Ynoxas has a really brilliant idea with the writing contest. It both repays the karmic debt, and it causes kids to consider ethical implications of actions. Genius.

I would target the age group that is the same age you were when you committed the shoplifting. To do the contest, I would approach the headmaster/principal of the local school for that age group. Explain that you would like to do this contest, and prove that you have the money in an escrow account for disbursement. Tell her/him that you want zero contact with the children themselves, and that you want the papers to be anonymized before you see them. (So they don't think you're scary stalker dude.)

For the record, you'll probably have better luck at a private school than a public school.
posted by dejah420 at 8:37 AM on March 28, 2007

I think the most vital forms of neo-paganism center around ancestor worship, which ultimately comes down to worshipping family, and through your family, others, then all families, and so forth to all living things.

So I believe you should find his family, or him, and tell them your story, give them the money and wish that family all possible success.
posted by jamjam at 9:15 AM on March 28, 2007

Forget about it and move on. we all do stupid stuff when we're younger.

*Sometimes* this is all you can do, but generally, I think it's poor advice. There are wrongs that can only be mitigated, not righted, and there's cures worse than the disease, but generally, the world is a better place when people take responsibility for wrongs they've done and really try to set things right.

Get over yourself! It's 'yourself' that's causing all the troubles. Adolescent larceny is practically a rite of passage...The real question is whether you take yourself to be the same person who stole the goods.

I think ultimately who / what kind of person you become is definitely important... but if you think about it largely in those terms, it can easily just turn to more selfishness. Good efforts at restitution bring you into an encounter with others and the consequences and costs of your actions to them. And provide you with an opportunity to lighten their burdens as well as yours. This kind of change is larger than yourself, and therefore a part of getting over oneself.
posted by weston at 10:01 AM on March 28, 2007

Just work on being a better person and doing good things for others in the future. You have the potential to make reparations a millionfold, worth far more than $240. By doing good things you'll feel rewarded yourself and the guilt over this relatively small transgression will fade.

You'll find forgiveness and compassion for yourself if you want it. I promise.

Trust me. I was a little shoplifter in 9th grade. I stole a hell of a lot more than $240 worth of stuff. But I'm confident that the good things I've done since have more than cleared my name & on top of that, I've been given compassion for the mistakes of others. I've enjoyed acquiring my good karma points so much that I'm actually thankful for the bad things & mistakes that inspired me to change & improve myself.
posted by miss lynnster at 10:15 AM on March 28, 2007

With "several months worth of full time volunteer work" you have likely repaid the debt. I would ask, however, why you seek amends and why you feel you need to take specific action repairing this specific act. It is possible the reparation itself would be an act of selfishness if its motivation is simply to relieve you of guilt. Do what you can you make good in the world and to attenuate bad ... it is not up to us fleshy humans to decide when you've done enough so just keep trying. And worry more about what you sow in the present than you have in the past.

Virtue ethics are less about obedience than about growth.
posted by and hosted from Uranus at 10:57 AM on March 28, 2007

It is possible the reparation itself would be an act of selfishness if its motivation is simply to relieve you of guilt.

That's ok--no matter the reason, it does good and helps others, which makes the world a better place. It's more a matter of some specific actions he can take (to balance the scales?) instead of simply generally helping others or volunteering, i think. You'd be surprised at some of the motivations and reasons people have for doing things that help others--none of those taint the good they do, or lessen the impact of that help.
posted by amberglow at 11:13 AM on March 28, 2007

(It's not neo-pagan, but Tikkun Olam applies)
posted by amberglow at 11:19 AM on March 28, 2007

from there: ... "rupture" and "mending." ... the language of "mending," by its nature, implies the centrality of human responsibility for improving the condition of things. ...
posted by amberglow at 11:26 AM on March 28, 2007

How about making a donation to a charity that helps juvenile no-good shoplifter-types turn their lives around? I have no idea if such a charity exists, but if it does, and they have a project running in the geographical area where the shop used to be, a gift to help prevent further similar acts might be a good karmic response.
posted by hot soup girl at 11:44 AM on March 28, 2007

I would say that good deeds don't really erase bad deeds. Undoing bad deeds (paying them back as you wish to do) is what erases bad deeds.

My argument is that nothing erases bad deeds, but as adults, we should recognize that we, like everyone else, are imperfect, and have done bad things. The past cannot be changed, we can only change our attitude towards it.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 4:32 PM on March 28, 2007 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Okay so I did take some action based on the suggestions in this thread. I liked the microcredit idea and set up an account on one of the sites and threw in a $100 to three small shopkeeps microloans - and I will try to lend that money and whatever I add to it based on what I think the shopkeep I wronged would want (he was a hell of a nice guy, which is part of the reason I feel like a shit for ripping him off), the at-risk youth thing is a good idea and I haven't figured out how to address it yet -- but thinking in those terms made me recognize a situation elsewhere in life, dropping a wad of cash on a random person who seems worthy might happen too. Thanks a bunch everyone.
posted by Deep Dish at 6:09 PM on March 28, 2007

If you drop the cash on a random person, include some sort of note that explains it, otherwise you'll be transferring your guilt into their suspicion, and they won't understand why they got so fortunate. Basically I'm sayin', if someone handed me a pile o $$, I'd worry that it wasn't honest money, and I'd feel really guilty about it, even if I had need of it. But if there was some sort of note, I'd feel really good about that, and I'd put the money to good use.
posted by iamkimiam at 12:33 PM on March 30, 2007

i don't think it's needed at all--microloans aren't simply anonymous donations--they help businesspeople thrive and build their businesses. It's a good solution, Deep, and i continue to be impressed by all this. : >
posted by amberglow at 7:07 PM on March 30, 2007

« Older watching other people's (televised) fun   |   the gods must be similar! Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.