I watched my best friend and her mother get taken away in handcuffs

Tracey Folly

*This is a work of nonfiction based on actual events I experienced firsthand; used with permission.

When I was a senior in high school, I got a job as a cashier in a grocery store. The best part about the job was all the new friends I made.

Many of my new coworkers were right around my age. It was like being introduced to a whole new social scene.

My friends and I quickly began spending time together outside work. Our parents gave us rides to and from each other's houses, and we got to know each other's friends and families.

As a grocery store cashier, I knew one rule was not ringing up groceries for people we knew. They strictly forbid family and friends from our checkout lines.

So I felt surprised when I saw one of my closest friends ringing up a massive order of groceries for her own mother. Clearly, my friend knew it was against the rules, too.

I wondered why she would break the rules for her mom, and I thought about calling out to her to remind her she shouldn't be cashing out family. I even thought about offering to take over for her because I didn't want her to get into any trouble. Maybe she just forgot.

The reason I didn't end up helping her was that I got swamped with customers at my own cash register. I turned to my duties and forgot about my friend, her mother, and that shopping cart overflowing with steaks and lobster.

I didn't think about them again until I saw police officers enter the store. My friend's mother was pushing her overloaded shopping cart toward the sliding glass doors, and the police officers stopped her before she made it into the parking lot.

At first, I was confused. I watched the police officers handcuff my friend's mother. Then they handcuffed my friend, who was barely sixteen. Mother and daughter sat on the grocery store floor with their hands cuffed behind their backs and their backs against the glass wall that overlooked the sidewalk between the store and the parking lot.

The next time I looked, they were gone. It wasn't difficult to figure out what had happened, and my friend later confirmed it.

My friend was working on the cash register as usual when her mother came into the store and overloaded a shopping cart with the most expensive groceries she could find. The older woman unloaded her groceries onto her daughter's cash register conveyor belt, and her daughter passed perhaps one out of ten items through the scanner while placing the other ninety percent of items into plastic bags without ringing them up.

Loss prevention and security spotted the scam and called the police just in time to catch my friend's mother and her overloaded but underpaid grocery store bags making their way into the dark parking lot. Another minute and they would have missed her.

I saw her mother's death notice in the local obituaries several years ago, and I couldn't help but remember the night I watched my friend and her mom get arrested.

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