Thomas Smith worked at an upstate New York Walmart, gathering shopping carts from the parking lot. He would often find discarded bottles and cans in the lot and one day decided to collect and redeem them. It was that decision that ultimately got him fired.
Since Smith’s story was published in the Times Union, support has poured in for him, with some writing letters to Walmart or suggesting a protest of the store while others are donating to a GoFundMe account set up in his name.
Smith had been gathering cans and bottles for two months before he was called into the security office at that Walmart Supercenter in East Greenbush. He had been caught on surveillance video trying to redeem the empty cans, and the manager told him that this was the equivalent of stealing Walmart property, though Smith said he didn’t know about that rule.
“I didn’t know you couldn’t take empties left behind. They were garbage,” Smith told the Times Union. “I didn’t even get a chance to explain myself. They told me to turn in my badge.”
To add insult to injury, Smith was fired three hours after he normally would have left his shift, because he had agreed to stay later to work because the store was short-staffed.
When the manager asked Smith to return the $5.10 he got from redeeming the cans, he didn’t have the cash on him, but he paid the money back on Sunday after a one-hour bus ride.
“I did the right thing and stayed out of trouble,” Smith said. “I worked hard and did a good job. I ended up getting a raw deal.”
Smith started working at Walmart earlier this year, following his release from prison. The father of two served a 15-year sentence for a 2002 armed bank robbery.
The story of Smith’s firing has reached across the country, triggering an outpouring of support, and prisoner advocates from the Center for Law and Justice in Albany have taken up Smith’s case.
Get more details on this story from the Times Union.