"When I married Chris, I had absolutely no idea he was a shoplifter. Since we've been married, he's been arrested four times," says Tami. The couple has been together for 10 years and has three children ages 4, 2 and 1. "Chris is probably the best father I could have asked for. He's so caring, so loving with the kids. My daughter will say, â€˜Mommy, I miss Daddy right now. Is it OK if I tell you that?'"
Chris was recently sentenced to 90 days in state prison, and Tami says she has no idea how to break the news to their children. "I've told my kids that Daddy's having a hard time following the rules, and now he's at a place that's trying to teach him to follow the rules. I have not used the word jail," she says. "I'm dealing with regret. I'm dealing with frustration. I think he gets that he's destroying our lives, but I just don't think he knows how to stop it. I fear that I'm going to lose my husband, I fear that I'm going to lose my best friend, and I fear that my children are going to grow up without a dad."
"I've been stealing since I was 6. I never got caught until, I think, sophomore year in high school," says Chris. "I've been shoplifting for 32 years. In those 32 years, I've been caught five times, and that's probably [out of] 3,000 or 4,000 or 5,000 times that I've done it."
Chris explains why he feels the need to steal. "I feel there's a high. It's more of beating the system, getting one over, outsmarting them, that you can get away with it," he says. "If you've done it thousands of times and not gotten caught, it's just so hard to stop. I just don't feel bad for taking from stores. On a personal level, I would never break into someone's car or home or steal from somebody's personal property, for some reason. If it's a corporation or a store, I have no problem taking from them. I don't seem to make that connection " down the line " the consequences of what I'm doing and who's going to suffer and pay the price besides myself. Shoplifting has definitely ruined my life."
Chris recounts at a spree gone wrong. "I walked into a sporting goods store wearing a tank top. I had my daughter with me. I took a Tommy Bahama shirt off the rack and just put it on over my tank top. As we walked out the door, the two undercovers came out and put me in handcuffs right there in the parking lot," he remembers remorsefully. "I think she had just turned 4, so she knew something wasn't right, but she didn't know exactly what was going on. I never told her, â€˜Daddy did something wrong, and he has to pay the price and they're going to take me away.' That was the worst I've ever felt " as a father, as a man, as a husband. It was devastating. I write the kids once or twice a week. I ask them how soccer's going, how school's going. I can't see them. I can't hold them. I don't want them to see me in jail."
Chris joins the show via satellite from jail. "What do you think about what we've been talking about with this failure to connect the behavior with the consequences on [your] wife and kids?" Dr. Phil asks him.
"That's my story. I don't think it all the way through. I think I'm doing petty shoplifting, and if I get caught, the people at the store are going to just let me go, tell me, â€˜Don't come back. You're not welcome in the store anymore,' that they won't call the police because it's $10.00 or $50.00," Chris answers. "Ninety-five percent of the time, it's a petty little theft. When you have prior arrests and convictions for it, it magnifies it so much."
"The most glaring characteristic of you is what a loving, caring and attentive father you are," Dr. Phil says. He turns to Tami. "Would you agree with that?"
"Very much so," she replies. "He's an awesome dad."
"Where is the disconnect?" Dr. Phil asks Chris. "For somebody who is such a loving and attentive father to behave in such a reckless way is hard for me to wrap my mind around."
"I don't know. That's what I'm trying to figure out myself," Chris replies.
Dr. Phil addresses Tami. "Where do you come down on this?" he asks. "Is there a point at which you say, 'Enough is enough'?"
"It's been very difficult. It's four times now that he's been arrested. How many times do I forgive?" she asks.
"Do you think that this is a sickness with Chris?" Dr. Phil inquires.
"I don't think he can control it, especially after the last time with our daughter being with him," Tami responds. "I thought that would have put such an impact on him to stop, but it hasn't. He's still doing it."
Tami's mother, Marilyn, shares her thoughts. "As has been stated, he is a wonderful dad," she says of her son-in-law. "But the last two times he was arrested " the one for petty theft " was in the presence of our precious granddaughter, which again, I thought would make him stop. The second time was for trafficking drugs. My opinion is it has now come to the point of danger for my daughter and her children. I cannot tolerate that."
Chris agrees with his mother-in-law's assessment. "My actions have proven that she's right. All the stealing that I've done, I've sworn that I've stopped, and I start again and do it secretly," he says.
A poignant video of Chris and Tami's daughter plays on the large monitor behind Dr. Phil. As Tami reads a letter that Chris has written, the little girl sobs uncontrollably and says, "I want Daddy."
When the taped segment ends, Dr. Phil turns to Chris. "Is she worth the trouble?" he asks.
"Definitely," Chris replies, visibly moved. "There's no doubt in my mind."
"I'm all about accountability. I think people have to own the decisions and choices that they make in life, but sometimes, we get in situations where there are circumstances that can cause us to get where we don't have the ability to choose right," Dr. Phil tells Chris. "There may be things going on with you that make it almost impossible for you to make the right kind of choice."
He introduces Dr. Frank Lawlis, chairman of the Dr. Phil Advisory Board. "I think the impulse that may be related to self-esteem, or even anger about some earlier experience, might be the beginning, but it becomes a brain function at this point," Dr. Lawlis says.
Dr. Phil says that rather than punishing Chris, his behavior needs to be modified. He offers to make resources available if Chris is willing to do the work. Chris gratefully accepts the help.
At the end of the show, Dr. Phil turns to his former guests, Laura and Allen. "What are you going to do about this?" he asks, referring to their lifestyle.
"I'm going to do everything I can to stop, go out and get a regular job, whatever it takes to get this out of my life," Allen says.
Observing that Laura and Allen still have garages and buildings filled with stolen goods at their home, he says, "You've got to start disengaging from this life or you're going to be in serious, serious trouble."