The following is a translation of a story that appeared in Corriere, an Italian Media Outlet. The original story was in Italian and highlights the (mis)treatment of Sex Offenders in Florida after the completion of their sentences. It’s great that the international community is becoming aware of the inhumanity taking place in our state.
For the original article, see: http://www.corriere.it/reportage/esteri/2015/a-300-metri-dal-mondo-miracle-village-il-villaggio-della-florida-dove-vivono-i-sex-offender/
At 300 meters from the world: Miracle Village, the village of Florida, home to the sex offender
The author of this letter is Paul, a seventy-five who lives in the bungalow Ranked # 103 ofMiracle Village, a village in southern Florida surrounded by plantations of sugar cane, which the stillness of the night is shaken only by the whistle of freight trains crossing the state from north to south. Just down the road – two lanes of asphalt cracked bounded by a dense tropical vegetation – check Pahokee, the nearest town: an unnamed country of 6,500 inhabitants on the shores of Lake Okeechobee, the largest in Florida, which counts among its residents celebrated a dozen football players and a country musician, Mel Tillis. Pahokee, poor and predominantly African-American, is five kilometers from the fundamental Miracle Village, which has ten roads and 200 people: among them, more than a hundred aresex offender, persons convicted of sexual offenses.
The inhabitants of Miracle Village – a green rectangle with about fifty houses considered the largest community of sex offender in the United States – have abused minors, like Paul, or have molested their children, watched movies or child pornography had sex with underage girlfriends . According to Florida law, the most stringent of all the Member States, after having served his sentence persons convicted of sexual offenses must sign a register where indicate, among other things, their contacts and the address of residence, and their identities may be revealed to the community through newspapers, leaflets and other means to prevent new offenses. The sex offender also can not live less than 300 meters from a school, a kindergarten, a park or a playground, a limit which in some cities has been brought up to 750 meters and to which were added pools, bus stops and libraries.
“Roughly’m around these parts”
Doug, bungalow Ranked # 401
These residency restrictions greatly reduce the areas in which the sex offender, once released from prison, can reside legally, making fundamental five kilometers separating Miracle Village from Pahokee. In Miami, between 2006 and 2010, precisely because of these laws in many they found themselves living under the Julia Tuttle Causeway, the bridge across Biscayne Bay and connects the mainland to Miami Beach. What began as a temporary solution set up by the city to solve the problem of homeless sex offender, was for years a tent city that between waste, droppings and insects was the only possible address for all those who had committed sexual offenses, had scarce resources economic and wanted to live in Miami.
Before it was evacuated in April 2010, the tent city came to contain 140 sex offender that were subject to a strict curfew and were evicted once they become too visible and embarrassing for the city, being routed between a hotel and a trailer park, a community caravan in a suburb. During its existence, however, the colony of Julia Tuttle Causeway has attracted much criticism, and was often taken as a negative model of social policies against sex offender: the inability to find a permanent home for those who had committed sexual offenses He wrote for example the Miami Herald in November 2011, increases the risk that they may compierne new ones, while the proximity to schools or parks does not increases the possibilities.
Lee, bungalow Ranked # 604 of Miracle Village
“When I was 18, I was living with my sister. One night his daughter stopped to sleep. While she was sleeping and I was the babysitter, I touched. The next day they were asked to explain and I admitted what I had done. Based on my testimony, I was accused of capital crime. I spent nine months in the county jail, I declared myself guilty and was sentenced to 15 years. I was a kid very immature when I went into prison, I had to grow and survive. I do not want to tell my experience in there, but I learned. ”
“The July 9, 2013 I moved to Miracle Village. I love living here. I have a house, a key and true friends who care about me. ”
Doug, bungalow Ranked # 401
The tent city of the Julia Tuttle Causeway was also known as “Bookville”, the name of the person with his work had helped to create it: Ron Book, the richest and most powerful lobbyist in Florida, a man fighting with three phones to always on a large diamond ring ring finger of his right hand. After discovering the abuses suffered in the nineties by his daughter Lauren – that since he was eleven he was sexually harassed by the nanny Waldina Flores for six years without anyone noticing -, Book helped write the harsh laws of the state, fighting for increased penalties and restrictions of residence that led to the creation of the colony under the bridge to Miami.
“The Julia Tuttle Causeway was a mistake due mainly prison administration of Miami, who continued to send people under the bridge. Make them live outdoors is not a good idea, “says Book to Corriere della Sera.Today the nanny Waldina Flores is serving a sentence of 25 years in prison in Ocala, while her daughter Lauren – after a long therapy – she joined her father in his battle to the sex offender and he founded “Lauren’s Kids”, an organization that campaigns against child abuse, 95 percent of which, he says, can be prevented through education and awareness. “Despite the mistake made by the city of Miami,” Book continues, “I think the idea of building affordable housing away from the population is a good way to group sex offender in a more easily monitored.”
“My dog is a better friend than most humans.”
Gene, bungalow Ranked # 404
Just in the tent city of Miami it is set Lost memory of skin, the latest novel by the American writer Russell Banks, who from the balcony of his luxury condo – where you usually smoke cigarettes looking for inspiration – could see the poverty of the camp under the bridge leading to the glittering life of Miami Beach. Specialized in characters living on the edge, Banks went exploring the Julia Tuttle Causeway, realizing that not all sex offender are equal. “The problem is that the law lumps all together: serial rapists, pedophiles, guys convicted of indecent exposure because pinched while urinating outdoors and teens who have had sex with a fifteen,” he explained to the New York Times. “This phobia of sexual offenses is becoming a national concern, remember the witch trials of Salem.”
According to Tamara Rice Lave, an associate professor at the law school of the University of Miami, the broad definition of sex offender is indeed paradoxical. “It is totally irrational: those who commit violent sex crimes have in common with people who have committed crimes smaller, as pee in public or having sex with an underage girl,” confirmed to Corriere. “The politicians, however, are afraid to fight against an unjust law because they fear losing votes. It is easier to be tough with sex offender. ”
Ben, bungalow Ranked # 405 of Miracle Village
“For the weekend of Valentine’s Day I planned to meet my girlfriend. Instead, my life changed forever, and not for the better. As I went to our appointment, I was stopped by the police: there was an arrest warrant, was charged with possession of child pornography. A few hours later, as I sat in the cell, I thought it was a great mistake, and that in couple of days at most I would be released on bail. I would have to make peace with my girlfriend for ruining Valentine’s Day, but I was sure that in the end everything would be all right. After remaining in jail for over a hundred days, finally I arrived in front of the judge. Against me there were ten counts of possession of child pornography, all of which could cost me five years in prison, but the judge gave me for each year of probation. Once out of jail, I read the files of the police … I found that while I was spending a weekend in December from my girlfriend, from the parts of my house raged a storm. My roommate, as he told police, came into my room to turn off the computer. Before you do, however, he was curious to see what it was. Apparently entered the folder where I was downloading my porn, he noticed some files where there were underage and he called the police. If my computer was protected by a password, it would simply shut down and nothing would happen to all this. Since I have a fondness for porn stars with big tits, probably I would have deleted files child pornography along with several others, without even thinking about it. Instead, my computer was not protected by a password, and now I am a sex offender. That’s life. If, as the Buddhists say, there reincarneremo after death, perhaps in my next life I will be more lucky. ”
The camp of the Julia Tuttle Causeway is not the only demonstration of the harsh laws of Florida. In Arcadia, a town of 6,000 inhabitants on the other coast of the state, not far from Sarasota, Florida is the Civil Commitment Center, a structure wrapped by barbed wire where 650 men are confined to the State concerned may harass, assault or rape someone in the case are released. This is not for people who are serving their sentences: in Florida is in fact legal incarcerate someone for a crime he has not committed.
This practice – similar to the forced hospitalization of the mentally ill and called civil commitment – is reserved for people convicted of violent sexual offenses that are still considered at risk once finished the sentence: the State sufficient to show that a person has mental problems that prevent him from control himself. The idea dates back to the sixties, when similar legislation was in force in 26 states. In the time were all repealed, but in 1999 the Florida was among the first to endorse this law again, and now the civil commitment is in force in twenty states.
In the Sunshine State,served his sentence, the sex offender receive a psychological evaluation that determines the predisposition to commit violent sex crimes again. If considered dangerous are confined to Arcadia, where he will wait a commitment trial, which is a new process that will express their confinement and could arrive even after years. “The law says they can be released when they are no longer a threat, but an eventuality is very rare,” says Professor Rice Lave, author of a critical study published in 2011 on the New Criminal Law Review, which is based on low rates recidivism of sex offender. “Actually, these people are incarcerated for the rest of their lives. It is more full of errors. ”
Despite the State’s legislation was already tough, last year Republican Gov. Rick Scott – also due to an investigation of the newspaper of Palm Beach, the Sun-Sentinel, that 594 registered sex offender would be sentenced again after being evaluated and released – signed a tightening of regulations, which doubled the minimum sentence for child abusers, bringing it to 50 years, he eliminated the sentence reduction for good behavior and prohibited the possession of pornographic material to those convicted of sexual offenses. “There is one thing we know for sure,” said Rep local Matt Gaetz when signing. “Nobody has ever raped a child while he was confined in a state prison.”
Rose, bungalow Ranked # 307 of Miracle Village
“I married a man who abused me. He took drugs and drank until he lost consciousness. He told me that I would not have ever taken our children. The course of events that led to my arrest is too long and very painful for me to go into details. I was arrested and accused of molesting my children. My husband and my mother-in-law testified against me, and I lost. My public defender not defended me and not checked anything, I had to protect herself. It is very difficult not being able to see my children, but I believe that one day see them again. I pray that happens. I like to think that one day will want the truth, and I will be looking for. ”
“With the dead there can no longer speak.”
Paul, bungalow Ranked # 103
According to a study by the Bureau of Justice Statistics – the government agency that collects, analyzes and publishes statistics on crimes committed in the United States – the first three years of the issue, however, only 5.3 percent of sex offendercommits again sexual offenses.”Contrary to popular belief, they have a low rate of recidivism. Some studies also show that, as we age, those who have committed sexual offenses has less and less chance to hit again, “explains the professor Rice Lave, who specializes in criminal law and in particular in the evaluation and monitoring of sex offender. Despite this, the laws of Florida are very hard on people who have finished serving his sentence for sexual offenses and that, as happened to Julia Tuttle Causeway, are pushed away from densely populated areas and especially the margins of society, making it extremely difficult recovery after release.
“The real problem,” continued Rice Lave, “it is that these communities promote the misconception that thesex offender must live apart for the good of the community. However, it is important that people are reintegrated after release from prison, because this reduces the chances they hit again. Places like this can be useful when offering specialized treatments. ”
In this dramatic context, in 2009 Dick Witherow – a former private detective became pastor and leader of the Christian nonprofit Matthew 25 Ministries, who was then 76 years – founded Miracle Village, a town that seems to offer an alternative decent people who have been convicted of sexual offenses: the mission, as stated on the website, it is “to provide a rehabilitation community for compassionate” former offender “who want to take responsibility and learn to make the right choices while aspiring to success» .
Witherow, who died in 2012, had seen its Christian mission in recovering sex offender who, in an interview on National Public Radio in 2009, called it “the lepers of modern times,” an expression that gives the title to his book on ‘argument. During the interview, the minister also told his own personal experience: 18 years her pregnant his future wife, who was then 14 years. “If that had happened in our society,” he explained, “I would have been accused of sexual offenses on minors, would receive a sentence of between 10 and 25 years in prison and a long probation, then I would have been branded a sex offender.”
The bungalows yellow that today form Miracle Village was once a company town, a small dormitory for workers who worked the sugar cane before the industry went into crisis. In 2009, when Whiterow chose it as the site for their organization, still called Pelican Lake and the pastor, who could not afford to buy it, he became the manager, his first act was to notify the families who lived there with children who was reaching a community of sex offender, and that perhaps they would rather move elsewhere. Most went away, many denounced him claiming to have been unjustly expelled. The few who remained retired Jamaican laborers did not seem to be disturbed but the arrival of new tenants brought by Pastor Witherow. “We commit all the mistakes, man,” he said at the time one of them, Percy Val Miller, the Tampa Bay Times. The arrival of thesex offender, according to many, had in fact made the ten village roads even safer, and more carefully.
By the time Colin Walkes, the mayor of the nearby Pahokee, was rather less sympathetic: “there are too many all together, it’s very risky,” he commented. Today, though I did not want to answer questions from theCourier seems to be more tolerant, and admits that people have begun to accept the unusual neighbors who live just outside the city. “At first there was a lot of opposition, because we wanted to protect our primary asset: our children,” he told the BBC. “However we are overcoming it, because this is a country of second and third chance for those who make mistakes. As long as there is police and there are no problems, the community will accept them. ”
David, bungalow Ranked # 209 of Miracle Village
“My crime was to have a relationship with my girlfriend of 16 years, I care a lot. I was 18, going to be 19 at the time. Parents began in the middle, and I was accused of sexual assault in the second degree, probably without physical violence. ”
“PPP-spoke ccc-so. Up to 18 years, I had a terrible stutter, I hated talking. I had always been a good student and often knew the answers to the questions that were being done in the classroom. However I not ever get up the hand, because I was afraid of being called. My stuttering was bad, and if I was talking to a girl got worse. When in 1988 I discovered the chat, and I realized that I could communicate without speaking, it was the most beautiful day of my life. At the time of my arrest I was working from home. It was a slow day, so I went on Yahoo Messenger and tried someone to chat with. With someone, usually I meant someone female. I entered the “room” of Miami, and found someone to talk to. The person is described as 13 / female / Miami. Before answering, she specified that she was afraid to tell me something, because then I would not have wanted to talk more. Although intuition, I not left the chat. As often happens, the conversation became sexual, and was then suggested a meeting. A couple of days later, I drove down to South Beach with the excuse of going somewhere else, and I was arrested at the meeting place. I did not know what would happen.I thought surely my marriage would end. Thank God, it is still going on. I think finally my dependence chat, begun in 1988, is over. ”
Richard, bungalow Ranked # 603
Jill Levenson, an associate professor of Barry University, a private university and the Catholic Archbishop of Miami, is convinced that it is possible that too many sex offender in one place can increase the risks for neighboring communities, as in the case of Pahokee, but believes there is also benefits: often, residents monitor each other. “If someone does something risky, the others recover or make report to the authorities, because a relapse can be problematic for all the inhabitants of the community,” he says Levenson, who is the author of numerous studies on the subject. “The sex offender,however, do not commit child abuse because they reside near schools or parks. Rather create opportunities over time cultivating relationships with children and their families. ”
A vigilant about Miracle Village Detective Courtney Minton, UnitSexual Predator and Offender police in Palm Beach County. Each week visit the community, check the addresses and ensures that residents have registered their contacts as required by law. Detective Minton is responsible for about 900 300 sex offender living in the county, while 65,000 are in Florida and throughout the United States come to 840,000.
Mike, bungalow Ranked # 502 of Miracle Village
“After my back surgery, I had to stop the three jobs I was doing and began to spend more time at home than I had in all my 15 years of marriage. I began to notice a lot of things on my first marriage that I could not see and I went into depression, feeling more and more a failure as a husband, as a father and as a person who keeps the family. I began to discuss with my children for their mistakes, especially with my daughter, with whom we were standing up late to talk about his friends, drug use, its future and everything else. Sometimes we fell asleep together, and cingevo around the breast as I was usually with my wife. Then one day they found with drugs at school and was suspended, then the confiscai mobile phone, computer, stereo and video games. She began to rise dramatically and two weeks after he fled with a 34 year old. When the police found her, she accused me. During the investigations were said to be truth but lies, and I was shocked by both. I had been honest about everything, which I had wounded the allegations. I was convicted of indecent exposure and lustful because I went from the bathroom to my room without clothes, and because I was taking a shower with my children. I have been convicted of sex crimes because I was sleeping in the same bed with my daughter and touching her inappropriately, for watching adult movies and not have them off when he entered my daughter. ”
The Executive Director of Matthew 25 Ministries is Pat Powers, a septuagenarian who was once an important coach of racquetball, a sport similar to squash that is played with rackets and balls of rubber. In the early nineties he was convicted of having sexual contact with eleven children and is now trying to use his experience as asex offender for influencing others. “I was fully guilty, and still there are times when I feel I have let everyone down.But God has forgiven me, and now my life is changing, “he explained Powers on National Public Radio. “The only way to change is to admit you were wrong.”
“Only a fool trusts you, when you’re a sex offender.”
Gene, bungalow Ranked # 404
In the village there are classes on anger management, sex therapy and Bible studies, in addition to psychological treatments that for most of the sex offender are required. Some of the residents are wearing ankle bracelets for electronic surveillance, they have a curfew at 19 and can not have neither a computer nor a mobile phone, but they are free to do business and work in nearby towns, such as the Methodist Church in Pahokee, in which in different provide live music during services. “We receive every week between 10 and 20 applications for admission,” he told the BBC Jerry Youmans, coordinator of admissions of Matthew 25 Ministries, also convicted of sexual offenses. “Let’s not accept persons with a history of violence or drugs, and not to take diagnosed pedophiles or those who only have sexual urges toward children. We want to protect the people who are here. ”
A Miracle Village live in fact even some children, since Florida laws do not prevent sex offender to reside in the same neighborhood of minors: the only limit is imposed by the terms of probation, which has the power to prohibit any contact. This closeness between children and sex offender has also raised some criticism, starting with the powerful lobbyist Ron Book. “I do not like the management of Miracle Village, although host sex offender in a place away from the population is a good idea,” says Book, which is among the main supporters of the limitations of residence for the sex offender. “There are too many children who end up in the community founded by Witherow and become accessible for the population of predators that live there.Not a good idea. ”
Tracy, bungalow 302 Miracle Village
“I am a proud father.”
“A fantastic place to live.”
Kenny, bungalow Ranked # 411
The manicured lawns and lush tropical vegetation are but a mirage: they seem Miracle Village a quiet rural community and push to forget that some of the residents living in this peaceful village in the interior of Florida because they have committed terrible crimes, and because they often have no found another place where he was allowed to live.
Over time, laws restricting the areas in which the sex offender can reside were approved in fourteen states, from Alabama to California, but many wonder if they actually serve to secure the high population. The proponents of this legislation believe is a matter of common sense: if you let the sex offender living near places where children gather, the risks will no doubt be more. “These individuals are always a threat to our children and to our society,” said Ron Book. “By their own admission they should not live close to the children.”
For others, there is no empirical evidence that shows a lower recidivism rate among those who live far from schools, as also claims a study by Professor Jill Levenson made of 135 sex offender living in Florida and sarcastically entitled “A 300 meters from the danger or a step from the absurd? ‘, under which these restrictions increase isolation, create situations of psychological distress and financial stability and decrease, all of which together may increase the risk of committing new crimes.
“Our country,” explains Professor Tamara Rice Lave, “is very good at jailing people, but it is equally adept at supporting a rehabilitation when they are in prison, or is able to facilitate their reintegration into society his sentence. The sex offender, in particular, we should offer treatment and support, and instead approve laws that alienate them and make it even more difficult to keep a job or find a place to live. This increases the risk they hit yet, and is the opposite of what we should do to promote community safety. ”
The photos in this report are from the book Miracle Village , a publishing project of Fabrica , the communication research center of Benetton Group. Photo captions are part of the evidence that the photographer Sofia Valiente has collected in the period that has passed Miracle Village.