If you ask 100 people, "Did you ever steal?" 90 percent would say yes, 9 percent would lie, and the remaining 1 percent would have led perfect lives and never been tempted. I am one of the 90 percent. This is a straightforward confession, with a story and a moral.

My dad defined stealing as the act of finding something before it was lost. He would warn us we better wait until things were lost before we went discovering the many world wonders. My mom was more to the point: If it is not yours, it belongs to someone else. Don't touch it.

Here is my story: It was Halloween in Buffalo, N.Y., and I was 10. Tommy Donavan, my best friend, and I decided to play Jesse and Frank James. We had seen the movie in the Oakdale theater Saturday matinee.

We had the perfect plan. Phase one, wait until the younger boys, two streets over, had filled their trick or treat sacks. Phase two, relieve them of such heavy burdens.

The law of the streets was leave the girls alone, but all males are fair game. At 7:30 — Tom had the only wrist watch among the poor kids — we ambushed two isolated lads. From the shadows we had observed who had the biggest treasures and selected the biggest prizes and the weakest kids. You know we studied survival of the fittest.

After we masked bandits successfully completed our mission, we departed the screaming victims in great haste. We retreated to the local den of thieves, the lumber yard near the railroad tracks. We located a suitable spot to begin our candy orgy.

But before we had unwrapped the first Hershey bar, two older boys attacked us innocent victims. From the other side of the lumber pile came Al Capone and Frank Nitty. They were probably a couple of Italian kids from another neighborhood.

As they faded into the darkness I turned to Tommy and uttered my famous words, "They stole our candy!"

We could not call the police or tell our families. As we walked home we both suffered in silence. That night, in the darkness of my bedroom, a bright glare appeared at the foot of my bed. The voice and the message haunts me to this very day. THOU SHALT NOT STEAL. The next Halloween Tommy and I went to the Boys Club and played checkers.

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Ken Seifert is a 40-year resident and a former Andover superintendent of school who writes about education and children.

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