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Doing the right thing: Probation officer returns money found

Though she’d been the victim of identity theft, Probation Officer Chanti Carter-Rene returned an envelope of thousands of dollars she found in the street to a nearby bank

By Chanti Carter-Rene, C1 Contributor

It was Monday, December 23, 2013, and I had some letters to drop off at the post office during my lunch hour. Having been the recent victim of identity theft, instead of Christmas shopping I was busy mailing out verification forms and affidavits to correct my credit report. Because of the identity theft, and the fact that I believed my own neighbor to be the thief, I was in the process of moving back in with my father before the start of the New Year until I could get everything straightened out.

As I was walking back to the courthouse from the post office, I noticed a bank envelope on the ground. When I bent down to pick it up, I also noticed the bright green tips of paper money. I picked up the envelope, put it in my pocket and kept walking. The weight of the envelope was clear that there were a substantial number of bills inside, but I had no idea the amount or denomination. When I got back to my office, I closed the door, took out the envelope and counted out 35 crisp, brand new one hundred dollar bills. I couldn’t believe my eyes. I began to panic a bit, wondering what I should do. Of course there were many things I could do with that kind of money, especially two days before Christmas. I could have dwelled on the fact that someone recently stole from me. The money certainly could have helped me avoid a layover at my Dad’s and afforded me the opportunity to move straight into a new apartment of my own. I pondered the financial possibilities for all of about two minutes.

I knew in reality I could not keep the money; it simply wasn’t mine. So, since the money was in a Citibank envelope, that clue provided an avenue to find the person the money belonged to. Just half a block down the street was a Citibank. Surely the tellers would remember a customer that recently made such a large withdrawal. I went to my supervisor, showed her the money and told her I was returning it to the bank. When I went inside the bank and informed the teller that I was there to do the right thing, she interrupted me to ask if I found $3,500 dollars. I told her I had. She informed me that the owner had just called; frantic, hoping that someone had found his money. Ultimately, I was very happy to have returned the money to its rightful owner. The gentleman later called me personally to say thank you, and after that, I returned to my busy day as usual.

I never thought returning the money was newsworthy. In fact, the only reason the story was made public was because my father called the newspaper after I told him about the incident a week later in passing conversation. So many people thought that returning the money was incredible and selfless, and it’s very sad to me that more people were telling me they would have kept the money than those who were inclined to return it. The return of the money wasn’t incredible, it wasn’t even selfless. It was normal. It was as normal to me as returning someone’s umbrella left on a park bench. I’m far from a saint, but at least my conscience is still intact.

I didn’t ask for or expect all the attention I received in the several weeks following the incident. I received a Good Samaritan Award from my job and various articles and updates in the newspaper and online. My professional background is primarily in investigative work, and I believe those skills, in addition to ethics training, were factors in the decision I made. This experience definitely put my integrity to the test. As a result, I’m more compassionate in the many hats I wear; as a mother, a wife, a friend, a mentor, a teacher and as a probation officer in the sense that I’m much more aware of the decency deficiency in our society and the need to restore it with more simple acts of kindness. I keep in mind the importance of empathy and understanding when working with people. I encourage anyone reading this, and especially the criminal justice professionals, to implement these social skills in your day-to-day work and you’ll notice a dynamic shift in the respect and admiration you can earn from others.

Since this event, I’ve begun to re-focus on my career growth and expanding my expertise. I became a Certified Fraud Examiner in August, and I’ve been teaching criminal justice at William Paterson University for nearly a year now. Also, after years of putting it off because of my own insecurities, I’m finally preparing for law school and I couldn’t be more excited about the prospects of the challenge. In closing, as this year comes to an end, I’m grateful for the many people I inspired and those who inspired me. It would be refreshing to see if the New Year brings a new attitude about civilization. There are so many sad stories, mean stories, violent stories. I look forward to the day when the tide shifts and basic acts of kindness are commonplace and violence and selfishness are rare. In the meantime, reveal your humanity. You’d be surprised by what a difference you can make.