Rarely does a week go by without my 4-year-old daughter asking, "Mommy, is that person still in jail?"
Last fall, my daughter and I were at a grocery store. At the checkout, when I went to grab my purse out of the cart, it was gone.
Suddenly, I became the fourth or fifth or 10th victim of a purse-snatcher who had hit a number of Raleigh grocery stores. As the police quizzed me, I realized two things: I had a ton of stuff in there—credit and debit cards, checkbook, remote keys to two cars, kids' school photos, a Blackberry phone storing all of my contacts, the earrings my son had given me for Mother's Day. I had no idea when the purse had disappeared.
My daughter, a solid 36 pounds, insisted I hold her. That day she was wearing her favorite pink T-shirt, her thick summer-blond hair tied up off her neck, and she nuzzled heavily into my collarbone. Outside, two police officers asked, "Are you sure you didn't see anybody?"
Then I remembered that my little girl had asked uncharacteristically to get down and walk, somewhere around the black-bean aisle. With the police standing over us, I turned to her and asked, "Sweet pea, did you see anybody borrow Mommy's red purse?"
"You did? Was it a boy or a girl?"
"Did she have dark hair like Mommy or light hair like you?"
"Light hair. In a ponytail. And she wore a pink shirt."
A mirror image of herself. The policemen glanced at me, silently asking, "Are we to believe this child-witness?" I shrugged my shoulders.
The bag boy had the best view of who entered and exited the store. He spoke up: A black guy had walked in just after I had. He wore a hoodie and baggy jeans. He'd been caught shoplifting before. That's the profile the police pursued. We were left on a bench, waiting to be picked up by my husband, who had the only other key to my car.
When my husband pulled up, he was on the phone with our bank, reporting the stolen debit card. A charge had been made not 10 minutes before at a store next door, for $1,250. I called the police back, and my husband sprinted next door in hot pursuit.
The manager pulled the register receipts. Yes, they'd just made a sale of that amount, to a woman, heavyset, mid-50s, with blond hair in a ponytail.
Approximately $3,000 later, she was caught at a late-night traffic stop, wearing a diamond ring she'd bought with my checkbook. She had my driver's license and a handful of other women's purses in her trunk.
Perhaps because computer-era purse-snatching borders on identity theft, she went to prison, for two concurrent 8–10 month sentences. And perhaps the judge took it into consideration that it all happened next to a child—a quiet girl who saw everything and knew it was wrong, even though the thief wore her favorite color.