Caught in the Act: Kendra and Erica

Can't Stop Stealing

"I consider myself a kleptomaniac. Shoplifting is a compulsion for me. It's like something in my mind is telling me to do it. It's like it's whispering to me, 'Go shoplift. Go shoplift,'" says Kendra, 26, who

shoplifts at least four days a week. Some of the items she steals include: toilet paper, toothpaste, magazines, picture frames and clothes. "I learned how to shoplift from my mother."


"I didn't think that my shoplifting trips would affect her," says Erica, who started showing Kendra how to shoplift when she was 9 years old. "When she was an adolescent, I let Kendra push the carts out of the store after I had filled them with merchandise. I didn't intend to teach Kendra how to shoplift."


Kendra says that she would watch her mom fill a cart with items and walk out of the store. "I've grown up thinking it was OK, and I've been doing it ever since," she shares. Her latest infraction was two days before the show when she took diapers, and the last time she was discovered shoplifting was on Halloween. "I was caught stealing candy. I felt real embarrassed, because I had the money to pay for it. Money is never the issue when I shoplift," she says. Kendra enjoys the high she gets from shoplifting. "The feeling I get when I shoplift is like a rush. My heart starts racing. It's, like, an anxiety attack, and then when I finally make it out of th

e store, it's like," she let's out a deep breath. "It feels so good," she reveals.


Though Kendra has been caught shoplifting, she hasn't slowed down. At one store, she was chased by security guards, but she fled the scene. Another time, she stole kids' clothes and toys, and the heist was caught on tape. "I walked out of the store with a cart full of items. The security man came after me, and I gave him false information, and I ran. The next day, I was in the paper " three different shots of me in the store. They came banging on my door with a warrant for my arrest, and then I went to jail," she recalls. "The idea of going to prison is not keeping me from shoplifting at all."

Kendra is a mother of three and says that her children are aware of her habit. "Sometimes they're with me when I go to stores. I

have, like, a lot of things bagged up, and I'm just walking out the store without stopping at the register," she says. "I believe that they won't grow up doing that because I don't allow it. I tell them, ‘Don't you ever do this. It's wrong.'"


Erica recognizes that she contributed to Kendra's habit but says it's not all her fault. "I do feel like I started this mess and created a monster," she admits. "Now that Kendra's an adult, I no longer feel responsible for her shoplifting. Kendra knows shoplifting is wrong."


"It does scare me to think that I can lose my children from shoplifting, but like I said, when I'm shoplifting, I don't think about anything but getting those items out of the store and getting that rush," Kendra admits.


Pointing to surveillance photos of Kendra stealing, Dr. Phil asks her, "Why is that hard to look at?"

"I have these anxiety attacks, so I just get up and go do it. I don't think of the consequences at all," Kendra explains.

Dr. Phil addresses Erica. "What the hell are you thinking?" he asks. "She's 9 years old, and you've got her stealing?"

"I didn't have her stealing at 9. I took her with me while I was stealing," Erica says.


"You had her pushing the cart out the door," Dr. Phil reminds her. "I'm just curious what a mother says to herself at the time, when you're going into a store and stealing stuff and using your daughter in the process. What did you say to yourself at the time to make that OK?" 

"I didn't feel that it was OK. I knew it was wrong," she says.

"Would you agree that that's just outrageous behavior?" Dr. Phil inquires.

"Yes, it is," Erica agrees.

"You know what's more outrageous than the fact that you did it then? It's that you now say, ‘OK, I was involved in the beginning, but I don't really have any ownership in what she's doing now, because she's an adult, and she should know better,'" Dr. Phil tells her. "Are you kidding me? You take a child, and you weave this into the fabric of who she is. This is how she bonds with Mom. This is how she pleases Mom. This is how she does the things that Mom wants her to do at the time. That becomes part of her personality DNA."

"I don't think I'm off the hook," Erica says. "I admit that I started this."

"You take full responsibility, so that means when it's time for her to go to jail, you'll go down there and volunteer to do her time for her?" Dr. Phil asks.

"Yes, I would," she says.

"You should," Dr. Phil says. "Because you taught her to do it."

Dr. Phil assures Kendra that her mother's habit of teaching her to steal and rewarding her for it was unfortunate. "I'm sorry for that, and I

hate that for you," he says. "But here's the point now; you're going to go to jail." He explains that the court will probably take away her children, and that they would most likely be sent to foster homes, because they couldn't live with Erica since she is a convicted shoplifter as well.

"How many times have you been caught?" Dr. Phil asks Erica.

"I think maybe a total of four to five," Erica says.

Kendra says she's been caught five times.

Dr. Phil explains his thoughts on Kendra's habit. "You have learned to handle anxiety, you have learned to measure your self-esteem in this way. You have learned to do things where you get a fix by doing this. That's a coping skill. It's a dysfunctional coping skill. We have to take that out and put something new in its place," he tells her. "You have to learn how, when those feelings come, you're going to cope with them in a certain way. And if you don't, you're going to jail." He offers to provide Kendra with help, including biofeedback and cognitive therapy.To Erica he says, "You need to butt out. You need to not be helping her with this, because you have the same problem. You can't give her counsel on this. This is something that she's got to do on her own."

"I know now when she goes shopping, when I'm with her, she doesn't take anything. It's only when she's alone," Erica says. "I won't allow it."

Dr. Phil turns back to Kendra. "Make eye contact with me," he says. "Do you understand, you walk in another store, you're going to get caught if you steal? And if you do, you're going to jail because you're on probation, and if you go to jail, you're going to lose your children. You cannot mother your children in a cell. Do you get that?"

"Yes, I get it," Kendra says, crying. 

He offers to provide her with counseling, and she accepts.