When these troubled teenagers burgled this man he treated them with a kindness they had never experienced.

The old idiom says that crime doesn’t pay. More often than not, this rings true, as even those who escape punishment for one crime inevitably get cocky and wind up imprisoned for something else. But for two young boys in Adelaide, crime paid out big in a way they could never have expected. The victim of their crime was Michael Patrick Johnson, a 69-year-old former dock worker who lives in a retirement village on the Eastern side of Adelaide.

 

Sadly, Michael has no contact with his family these days, with a feud over money from four years ago still not having been resolved. With plenty of time on his hands, Mr Johnson spends most of his days catching up with his old workmates and tending to his garden, with his evenings dedicated to Bingo. In June of 2016, Michael inherited a good amount of money from a friend. He wasn’t short of money, in fact, Mr Johnson had a considerable nest egg saved up already. As soon as he got this money though, Michael immediately began making plans on how to spend his unexpected windfall.

 

The retirement village Michael (and his late friend) lived on had recently been subjected to a spate of burglaries and vandalism, so he decided to invest some of his funds in a community protection scheme to help himself and his neighbours. Michael spent several hours printing out the details of CCTV companies, security firms and other things related to his cause. His idea was to present his findings to the village’s security manager and take it from there. Michael’s plans were well received, as was his offer to pay for the whole thing too. By the time he got back from the meeting, it was 10pm. But when Mr Johnson’s front door swung open without needing the key, he immediately knew what had happened. His house had been ransacked, and among the burglars’ haul was his laptop on which Michael had photos and messages from family years ago.

Michael was crestfallen. There were gigabytes of old family photos stored on that laptop, and these often provided a source of comfort to Michael throughout these troubled family times. Mr Johnson reported the theft to the police, and they were astonished after he told them his incredible story. Rumours of Mr Johnson’s eventful day made their way to the local press, and this enabled him to put out a statement offering a reward for the safe return of the laptop or its contents. Mr Johnson immediately received messages from a litany of chancers, beggars and well-wishers, but nobody came forward with information about his laptop. After a few months had passed, Michael had given up all hope of ever seeing his old photos ever again. Then, on one balmy August night, he received a knock at the door. As soon as he answered he had a feeling he was about to learn the fate of his stolen laptop.

 

On Mr Johnson’s porch stood two young boys, no older than thirteen, one of whom was carrying a rucksack. Without saying a word, one of them opened his bag, took out Mr Johnson’s laptop and handed it to him. As soon as he did so, the boy revealed some devastating news. Not long after the theft, Mr Johnson’s laptop had been passed on to be resold by a third party. Before this could take place, the laptop had to be wiped. Every single file and photo Mr Johnson had collected over the years was irretrievably lost. The boys stood there with their heads sunk low. They knew what they’d done, and admitted they’d tried their hardest to retrieve the laptop and recover the files once they knew the full story. But their efforts were in vain.

Mr Johnson was obviously upset, but he saw how equally distressed the two boys were and invited them in to talk about their deeds. They admitted that they had been responsible for the criminal sprees around the area of late, but that Mr Johnson’s story had made them think about the consequences of their actions. They also both came from broken homes, with their stories of familial discord resonating deeply with Michael. Over the course of two hours the three struck up an unlikely rapport, and when the time came for them to leave, Mr Johnson offered them a deal. The two boys were to help Mr Johnson with his community protection scheme.

Since they were a pair of former burglars themselves, who better to help protect the village than them? They were tasked with assisting Mr Johnson in a range of tasks, including the installation of fencing, the organisation of neighbourhood watch patrols and the testing of security systems. In return, Mr Johnson would not reveal their names to the police or anyone. And on top of that, once the project had been successfully completed, Michael would reserve a chunk of his inheritance to pay for a scholarship for both boys at the University of Adelaide – if they managed to keep out of trouble, that is. So far, so good. As of October this year, Mr Johnson reports that the crime rate in his retirement village has dropped massively thanks to the expertise of the two young reprobates. And while Michael Patrick never did manage to retrieve those old photos from his laptop, he did end up salvaging something much more valuable; his relationship with his family.

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