Suzanne Moore: I felt confident about taking a lie detector test. Then I remembered my Robin Hood past

“I just want to explain about the ham,” I said.

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When I tell people that I have taken a lie detector test, they always seem to assume I’ve been involved in some major fraud. Or been on Jeremy Kyle. I am not a great liar but I’d always thought that . . . you know, I could front stuff out. Yet, when I found myself on the 35th floor of a Manhattan office block and was shown into a very small waiting room, I began to wonder about my ability to tell the truth.

All of this was happening because I’d applied for a job in a record shop. It sent me for a lie detector test, which it said was standard. Everyone knows that such tests are rubbish. I mean, what’s the science behind them? As I wasn’t a criminal mastermind, it would be no bother but waiting in an airless room made me anxious.

A very large man came out and called me in and said we would talk through “the procedure”.

“No need,” I said breezily. “I have seen it in films.”

“No. It’s important you understand what is about to happen.”

He explained where I would sit, how I would be wired up, how sensors would pick up my heartbeat. “And pulses and perspiration.”

Suddenly I felt very hot. Also, faint.

Then he read out the list of questions he was going to ask me. And I realised I was not prepared for this at all.

“Have you ever stolen anything from a workplace – by ‘anything’, it could be a pen, a drawing pin – or made a phone call for free?”

Jesus. Of course I had.

What about the Saturday job I had at a supermarket, in which I passed stuff through the till for some customers without ringing it up, as I felt that old people should not really have to pay? My personal redistribution of wealth started at 14. When they put me on the deli counter, I decided that anyone who looked a bit poor should get free ham. It never entered my head that this was actual stealing.

Should I say something now, or when I was wired up?

“I will also be asking you several questions about substance abuse. When I say ‘substance’, I am, of course, including alcohol.”

Anticipating your own lies makes you sweat.

He took me to the chair and put stuff around my head, my heart, my fingers.

“I gave out ham. I was really young,” I blurted out.

“Please stay silent and simply answer the questions.”

“It wasn’t ordinary stealing. It was for other people.”

“I have asked you to be quiet.”

“I just want to explain about the ham.”

“Do you understand anything about what is happening now?”

He was very annoyed.

“Yes, that’s why I am trying to be honest. It’s not like I have done an armed robbery.”

At this, the needles on the polygraph went berserk. 

Suzanne Moore is a writer for the Guardian and the New Statesman. She writes the weekly “Telling Tales” column in the NS.

This article first appeared in the 06 February 2015 issue of the New Statesman, An empire that speaks English