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I’d heard about him for weeks but got my first glimpse of him yesterday. He was a small thing, cute you might even say, couldn’t be more than 11 or 12 years old and certainly not more than 5 feet tall. He came into the bakery and, after surveying the goat cheese/baguette sample, politely asked me if that was the only sample we had today.

“No,” I responded cheerfully, “We also have a delicious chocolate pound cake sample.” I gestured my hand toward the front counter.

His eyes lit up as he took one and then went out the front door of the store to tell his sister about the day’s find.

“You know that’s the kid don’t you?” Asked my co-worker.

“What?”

“That’s the kid who stole our tips a few weeks ago. He’s been in here three times since then, trying to get away with it again. He has his routine down pat: he’ll come in and check out the samples, go outside and tell his sister what we have, and then come back in and out several more times, casing the place. His sister sits out there and coaches him.”

And, sure enough, a few seconds later, the boy was back. First he took the goat cheese sample and then the chocolate. I quickly placed the cookie count clipboard I was holding over the tip jar. The boy left. And, a few minutes later, he was back. I put the jar on the back counter.

“Why can’t we do something about this?” I implored my co-worker. “If we know it’s him and we know what he’s doing, we have to say something!” I was angry, not so much because the boy was trying to take my tips (which, at a bakery are prettyΒ abysmal anyway), but that he was blatantly attempting it. He would look us in the eye and talk to us very politely. He put on his very best I’m-a-cute-innocent-little-child-what-would-I-ever-do-to-you face.

My anger slowly turned to pity and sadness as I realized this is where it starts. This kid, in his school uniform on his way home from class, was stealing tips. And not just stealing, coming back to the same place to steal again and doing it boldly.

What happens when the thrill of a few dollars in tips from a bakery isn’t enough anymore? If he doesn’t learn now that stealing is wrong and that his actions have consequences, his life could be headed down a slippery, dark path.

But what can I say? “Hey kid, we know you stole our tips and we’re watching. It’s not nice to take other people’s things. What’s a young boy like you doing stealing anyway? Shouldn’t you be doing homework?” This method of the nice lady trying to help the little wayward child rarely works. I feel stupid just typing it.

Or I could go the route of “Hey you, if we catch you stealing our tips again we’ll call the cops!” You know, the whole scare-the-heck-out-of-’em technique. But I don’t believe in threats of punishment as a way to learn correct behavior. After all, look at what a great job our prison system is doing by using this method.

So I did nothing. I saw him come in for the fourth time in a ten minute span and I watched him walk over to take another sample. My co-worker held up a finger, as if to say, “One sample only,” and gave him a hard, cold stare.

I could only watch as the boy who stole the tips walked away.

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