Mercy for a Thief

A bar owner’s de­ter­mi­na­tion to find a lost wal­let helps a young man change his life

Reader's Digest - - Contents - JEN MCCAF­FERY

A FRAN­TIC CALL came into Jimmy Gilleece’s bar this past March. A newly mar­ried woman who had spent the af­ter­noon at the dive beach bar in Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina, couldn’t find her wal­let. She didn’t care about her ID, credit cards, or $150 in cash—but her wed­ding ring was tucked inside.

Gilleece, 42, didn’t like the idea that a theft could have oc­curred at his place, Jimmy’s at Red Dogs. So he set out to find the wal­let. He spent hours scour­ing footage from 16 dif­fer­ent sur­veil­lance cam­eras, watch­ing the woman’s ev­ery step in the bar un­til she went to sit on a bench out­side and left when her ride ar­rived. Within min­utes, a young man in a hoodie ap­proached the bench, shoved some­thing in his pocket, and walked off. Gilleece posted a clip on the bar’s Face­book page. “I didn’t want to cru­cify him,” he said. “I just asked if any­body knew who the guy was.”

Within hours, Gilleece got a text from 17-year-old Rivers Prather, who’d heard about the post from his sis­ter. Prather owned up to hav­ing taken the wal­let and told Gilleece he’d done it be­cause he hadn’t eaten

in two days. He said he saw the ring but thought it was fake, so he took the money and threw the wal­let off the pub­lic docks into the ocean. Then he bought a sand­wich.

Gilleece, un­sure whether he be­lieved Prather, told the teen to meet him at the docks. There, they got to talk­ing, and Prather re­vealed that he wasn’t get­ting along with his fam­ily and had been liv­ing in the woods for a week. Gilleece, a fa­ther of two with an­other on the way, took stock of Prather—his small stature, his ruddy cheeks—and saw him for what he was: more of a kid than a crim­i­nal.

But the stakes were high. The po­lice were al­ready on the case, and be­cause of the miss­ing ring, Prather could be fac­ing felony charges. “He would be go­ing to big boy jail, all

130 pounds of him,” Gilleece says. “I had to help him some­how.”

Gilleece re­cruited two lo­cal divers to search the wa­ters where Prather had thrown the wal­let. Mean­while, the po­lice had heard that Gilleece and Prather had spo­ken and wanted Gilleece to bring the teen down to the sta­tion. In­stead, Gilleece called the po­lice and told them, “He’s go­ing to be at the docks with me to­mor­row.”

A de­tec­tive was wait­ing for them there the next day at noon. A crowd had gath­ered to watch the two divers search in the strong cur­rent. More than an hour passed, with no sign of the ring. Gilleece grew wor­ried, es­pe­cially when the de­tec­tive be­gan pep­per­ing Prather with ques­tions, try­ing to get him to ad­mit to keep­ing the ring. Each pass­ing minute in­creased the chances that she would ar­rest the young man.

And then a diver popped up. In his hand was the wal­let, and inside was the ring. Cheers erupted from the spec­ta­tors. Even the de­tec­tive was happy.

When Gilleece called the wal­let’s owner, she burst into tears. She promptly dropped the felony charges against Prather for steal­ing the ring, and he was per­mit­ted to go through a mis­de­meanor di­ver­sion pro­gram for the theft of the $150.

But it wasn’t over for Gilleece. He’d been trou­bled about Prather sleep­ing in the cold woods. Gilleece knew his home was big enough to give Prather a place to live for a while. He told the teen he could stay with his fam­ily un­til the boy got on his feet again. He also gave the kid a job at his bar.

“Most peo­ple would have given the footage to po­lice, and he chose to help me,” Prather told CBS News. “I say thank you to him ev­ery day.”

Gilleece saw Prather for what he was: more of a kid than a crim­i­nal.

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