A man who fell down the escalator at provincial court in St. John's on Wednesday says he's doing fine, but the problem that sent him to court in the first place will be much harder to solve.

Lewis Kearney appeared in court to deal with charges after he was caught shoplifting from a grocery store.

Kearney relies on income support, with an annual income of just over $7,000 — about $115 a week — and after a long cold winter, he said it came down to a choice between freezing or starving.

'Once I got caught, that anger went and sadness set in because I had to stoop that low to get something to eat.' - Lewis Kearney

He said he was driven to try to steal food when he was told his subsidy to pay for his heat and light ran out and he had to pay it on his own, leaving little money to purchase groceries.

"I got angry and said I shouldn't have to be without food, so I went to the supermarket and I grabbed some pork chops and meat and stuffed it in a bag and tried to walk out with it but the security guard arrested me outside the door and charged me with shoplifting," said Kearney.

After a week of living on Kraft Dinner, bologna and canned beans, Kearney said he had a yearning for "something solid" in his stomach.

According to Kearney, it was the first time he ever shoplifted in his life. He stole about $40 of groceries.

Angry because he had to 'stoop that low'

Kearney said he has a degree from Memorial University, but hasn't been able to find work.

He said he's had a rough life that brought him to this point; he was sexually abused as a teenager, and a suicide attempt left him paralyzed on one side of his body. 

Lewis Kearney empty fridge

Lewis Kearney doesn't have much in his fridge, other than onions and condiments, but he says he'd rather starve than steal food again. (CBC)

"I don't think I would have done it then, just that I was really, really angry, and I really wasn't caring if I got caught or not because I was just angry at the way I was living. It's like living in a third world country — it felt like you had to go to the dump to get something to eat," he said.

"I thought about it all day and the more I thought about it, the angrier I got. But once I got caught, that anger went and sadness set in because I had to stoop that low to get something to eat."

Kearney took a fall down an escalator at Atlantic Place after his appearance in provincial court.

He said while those cuts and scrapes are gradually healing, the shame of stealing food to survive will take him longer to deal with.

"I've even had nightmares about the food I took. Thinking about my mother and father who are both gone who were so honest, [and] here I am out trying to steal food," said Kearney.

Kearney said he's not sure how he's going to get by over the next few months, with what little food he has, but he said he'd rather starve than be forced to steal again.

With files from Amy Stoodley