Moral victory: Inmate finds money — and the strength to turn it in

Posted April 17, 2009, at 8:47 p.m.

DOVER-FOXCROFT, Maine — John Rooney, 45, easily could have pocketed the contents of a moneybag and discarded the item where he found it Thursday.

But he didn’t.

Instead, the Charleston Correctional Facility inmate walked over to his supervisor, handed him the bag and then resumed his community service project picking up roadside trash on Dump Road in Dover-Foxcroft.

“What’s particularly interesting about this inmate is that his current sentence is for forgery and theft,” Jeff Morin, director of the correctional facility, said Friday.

“He’s taken a huge step forward and [is] proving that he is changing the way of his thought patterns of the past.”

Rooney, a third-time felon, said he found the bag of money, looked inside and saw cash and checks, as well as a book that said Sunday School. “I knew it was money from a church,” he said Friday.

It turned out to be a bank deposit for the Church of the Nazarene in Dover-Foxcroft, dating back to December 2007.

Neal Pinkerton, a facility supervisor of the work detail, gathered up the inmates and took them and the moneybag to the Dover-Foxcroft Police Department.

The wet moneybag contained mostly checks made out to the church in 2007, according to Jeff Weatherbee, a police department dispatcher. “It was nice of him to turn it in,” he said.

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Weatherbee said an official from the Church of the Nazarene said the congregation had been told the moneybag was lost in 2007 so the checks could be canceled.

Sandra Cookson of Milo, the church’s treasurer, said she was glad someone turned over the moneybag and was surprised it was found on Dump Road, since it’s not an area where she travels.

She said her husband had placed the moneybag on their vehicle trunk just before they left the Dover-Foxcroft church and then forgot it was there. She said there were checks and $26 left in the bag but $100.93 was missing. She believes someone picked the moneybag up elsewhere, took some of the cash and then discarded it on Dump Road. Why the thief left the $26 in the bag is a mystery, she said.

Rooney’s honesty was applauded by prison officials. The inmate was called to the office Friday morning by the on-duty supervisor and congratulated and thanked for his honesty, Morin said. “A lot of staff have been patting him on the back trying to reinforce the act because it could have gone the other way very easily.”

Deeds such as this are noted in behavioral management books maintained for each inmate, according to Morin. Inmates earn good time through the work they do for restitution, and incidents such as this are considered in the facility’s internal merit system.

Rooney previously served prison time for a drug offense while in the military and later served time for embezzlement from a private company, Morin said.

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