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The Car Thief’s Good Intentions 

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Harris was enrolled in community college before he was sidelined by arrests. - SHEILA LYNCH
  • SHEILA LYNCH
  • Harris was enrolled in community college before he was sidelined by arrests.

Harris says he regrets the damage he has done.

"I don't like taking from people," he says. "I don't like leaving people without their cars."

But he also rationalizes his actions. Often, when he has stolen cars, he uses them to drive between crowded areas, such as MetroLink stations, where he can perform and collect tips. At night, he sleeps in the cars.

Lynch says she has seen his mental health deteriorating. The good stretches between the bad decisions have become shorter. It's wrenching, because he remains kind and heartbreakingly eager to impress. She worries about him all the time. In a way, knowing he is in jail is a relief, because at least she knows where he is.

Sitting in the Workhouse visiting booth, Harris says he can understand that.

"I think she's able to breathe and live her life," he says.

His dream is to one day have the kind of "big beautiful family" that he never did. He will have a good job, and he will be the one taking care of everyone. But for now, he is working on the small steps, trying to slow down and think through his plan for when he is released again.

In many ways, he is still like the kid Lynch cared for nearly a dozen years ago. She talked to him after the Spire truck theft, scolding him for another dumb move. She demanded in her tough love way that he tell her what he was thinking.

"Well, clearly I wasn't," he admitted.

And yet he is still eager to impress.

"Did you see," he asked, "how good I drove?"

Correction: The original version of this story incorrectly reported the age of James Harris' cousin, Stephon Perry. We regret the error.

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