Janeen Thomas Would Like to Apologize for Those Philly Restaurant Incidents

An interview with last year's serial dine-and-dasher.

Photo courtesy Janeen Thomas

Photo courtesy Janeen Thomas

Last summer, I had a chance encounter with a woman named Janeen Thomas, whom I caught redhanded stealing my belongings from atop the bar at a local restaurant. It turned out that this wasn’t Thomas’ first time causing mischief in our local eateries, and shortly after my run-in with her, Thomas was arrested for trying to dine and dash at Vedge. She quickly became Public Enemy Numero Uno on the Philly food scene.

Eight months later, Thomas has been through the court system. She’s had time to reflect on her actions. And this week, we spoke on the phone about where she was then and where she is now. This is that conversation.

Janeen, you reached out to me wanting to talk about the events of last year, so what is it that you’d like to say about what happened, what you did?

Well, first and foremost, I wanted to apologize to you and to anybody that was affected by my behavior. I was in a really bad place at the time. There is no excuse for my actions. But since then, that’s not the Janeen that I am now or that I have been before, and I wanted to try to, how do I say this, I wanted to make it clear that because of some things going on in my life, I chose to make these horrible choices, and I’m suffering the consequences, but I am on the right path now.

I know that there were several different criminal cases. Where do they stand?

Court is done with. I’m on probation. I have terms that I have to meet for the judge — some therapy and continuing drug and alcohol treatment. Drugs were not a factor, but alcohol absolutely was. It’s a total of five years of probation, and I have to report once a month.

You attributed your behavior to some things going on in your life. I don’t want you to get into any private issues that you don’t want to get into, but can you elaborate at all about this, just to give the readers a sense of what you were going through?

This all stems back to — I would say that I suffered a traumatic experience at the age of 13, and I didn’t properly deal with that until I was 28. I am 34 now.

In my early 20s, while I was teaching special ed, something came up with one of my students that brought that trauma back from when I was 13 years old, it brought it to the surface. And I stopped at a bar and found that it alleviated the pain temporarily. I lost a hold on that, on my drinking. It kind of took over.

This is going back several years from now.

Yes. I started drinking alcoholically for the next four years, and eventually, I approached my family and said that I needed help, and I went to Florida for rehab. I was sober for 13 months consecutively. Then I picked up alcohol again for one day, and it was horrible, and I got back into the program, meaning AA.

I attended AA regularly, and I was really into the program, but it seemed like anytime anything came to the surface or anytime I had a major problem, alcohol was my go-to. But then I would get sober again.

So bring us to last year, what was going on for you then?

Sobriety was really a great way of life, and my life was going really well for a while. I moved into the city in September of 2014, and that was really a good start for me. But then I suffered another traumatic event, and I really lost hope. I turned to the drink again and spiraled down completely.

I have to say, your acts were so brazen. You took my stuff in a bar full of people, with security cameras obviously overhead. And in most cases, you weren’t running out of restaurants. You were just running up tabs and then saying you were broke. What was going through your head when you were doing these things? Did you want to get caught? Did you get a rush from it all?

To be completely honest with you, I don’t remember a lot. I remember going in, but as I would drink, I would go into a blackout. I have a friend that was with me for a lot of this — and he’s still by my side — and he would tell me things. You don’t remember doing that? When this happened or that happened, it was just blank. I don’t remember.

You’ve apologized to me, both during this interview and prior, and I’ve accepted your apology and believe that you are now on the road to recovery. Have you apologized to the other people that you stole from, such as the restaurant owners and staff?

I would like to apologize to all of them, but I have to discuss this with the courts and the probation office. I have stay away orders. Of course, part of my consequences is restitution, which is, of course, not the same as a personal apology.

I hear you on the stay away orders, but couldn’t you mail them a letter of apology?

I need to find out. I need to talk to the courts and my probation officer to see if I can do that.

What would you say to them if they were reading this?

I would sincerely apologize for any harm that I caused. The time, the headache. And I would just let them know that it’s truly not the person that I am. I wish I could turn back time, but I can’t, but I would do anything I can to make it as right as I can.

You said that you’re suffering the consequences. What are those, other than your probation?

I’m basically starting from square one, and the legal consequences have had negative consequences as far as gaining employment, at least in terms of anything solid like I had before as a special ed teacher. It’s been a real struggle, but I have to look at is as positively as I can. Keep pushing forward and whatever’s meant to be will be. I’ve gotten knocked down many times, but I have always gotten back up. Right now, I am pursuing my nursing degree.

You’re sober now?

I have been sober since July. I try to go to meetings four or five days a week.

You know, there’s a lot of talk about whether addiction is genetic, a family disease. I lost my sister last year to this disease of addiction — drugs — and it has been a big struggle coming to terms with that and accepting it. She was only 24 years old.

I’m very sorry to hear that. As for your own sobriety, you’ve been down this road before. How confident are you that you won’t relapse?

There is no guarantee, but I can reflect on my past and realize how badly alcohol has affected me. Also, I am on a drug called Antabuse. If I were to drink alcohol, I would become violently ill — like, I would need to go to the hospital. Some people might look at that as a crutch, but at this time, with everything else, it’s working. It’s not where I could wake up tomorrow and decide that I want to drink and not take the drug. It stays in your system for two weeks.

How did you feel when you saw our coverage about you?

Someone brought it to my attention when I was still in the spiral, and it made me more hopeless. But I have to say that without it, it would have taken me longer to hit bottom, and so in the end, I am glad.

Well, you certainly sound like you’re doing a lot better.

I feel a lot better. I feel healthier. I have to remember what I’ve learned through the program. I don’t want to take a drink again. It’s ruined my life. I was definitely a part of all that, but it brings out behaviors that I would never do sober. I just want to get my life back in order and keep moving along this path.

As for the program, what step are you on?

The eighth step. I’m making a list of amends.

Long list?

[Laughs] It sure is. It’s still going. It’s not only amends while drinking, it’s amends for the whole life. I really I have to think about who I hurt, did I say anything in 2nd grade? I’ve come across someone in the program, and he said, “I’ll never forget in 6th grade when you and that other girl would tease me.” Here he is, an adult, 34 years old, and bringing this to my attention.

Well, good luck to you. I wish you the best.

Thank you very much.