Chinese phone thief arrested on purpose so he can join prison’s award-winning performing arts group

Man with history of mental health problems sentenced to 10 months in jail after confessing to lifting handsets as a way to get on stage

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 01 April, 2018, 1:11pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 01 April, 2018, 6:15pm

A serial thief in Shanghai said he committed his most recent crime so he could achieve his dream of joining a local prison’s performing arts group.

The man, identified by his surname Wang, was sentenced to 10 months in prison and fined 2,000 yuan (US$320) in February after being found guilty of stealing cellphones from a hospital in the city’s Jiading district, Shanghai broadcaster STV reported.

The 45-year-old native of eastern China’s Jiangxi province pleaded guilty in court to stealing several handsets from patients while they were asleep, but his motive was not economic gain.

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According to the television report, he told police that he committed the crime as it was the only way he could think of to join Shanghai Tilanqiao Prison’s artistic troupe, a group that has won dozens of awards and staged more than 5,700 performances.

“I wanted a stage on which to sing,” Wang, who made a living as an artist in Shanghai, was quoted as saying. “Tilanqiao provides this stage, since they get to perform at various prisons. Once I go to prison, I will be able to bring this to a fulfilling end. I will not repeat the same mistakes, I won’t do it any more.”

Wang had previously been diagnosed with mild schizophrenia, and had a long police record for stealing, stretching back over a decade, local media reported.

Yu Zhong, a prosecutor in Jiading, said the case was unusual because Wang had clearly done all he could to make it easy for police to catch him after stealing the phones from the hospital.

He said Wang registered at reception with his own identity card, and that footage from a surveillance camera in the hospital’s lift showed him looking directly into the lens.

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“Ordinary thieves … don’t want to be caught,” Yu was quoted as saying. “But [Wang] was hoping officers would quickly track him down, so his case could be processed quickly and he would have the chance to serve his sentence.”

The television report did not say if Wang had managed to fulfil his artistic ambitions, but the prison

said on WeChat, mainland China’s most popular messaging app, that the performance group was designed to help rehabilitate criminals, not to create singing stars.

“Not everyone can join this group,” it said.