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Friday, August 2, 2013

Article by Ben Wolford: Sex Offenders, Pahokee Congregation Forge Unlikely Bond

 

I usually don’t “post” articles, especially if they are out-of- state issues or stories (unless there is a link to a Virginia issue or statute); instead I add them to the articles page . 

But in the last week there have been two article’s surrounding Florida’s Miracle Village and the late Reverend Richard “Dick” Witherow and this second article is just wonderful, so I’m posting this out-of-state article.  

For those of you who do check the books and studies page , Reverend Witherow wrote the 2009 book, The Modern Day Leper. His work and Miracle Village have been previously featured in articles over the last 5 years. 

Here is the newest and best article and at the bottom of the post you’ll find the July 30 article about this community. 

Mary
 

Sex offenders, Pahokee congregation forge unlikely bond, by Ben Wolford August 1, 2013
http://www.tampabay.com/features/humaninterest/sex-offenders-pahokee-congregation-forge-unlikely-bond/2134281
 
PAHOKEE — The pianist at First United Methodist Church was as nervous as he'd ever been before a performance.

Music comes naturally to Chad Stoffel. So he wasn't worried what they would think of his playing. He was worried what they thought of him.

"Do they know about my past?" Had they seen the newspapers? The ones that showed his face and the words sex offender?

This was February 2012. For about seven months, Stoffel had been living 2 miles outside of town in a secluded neighborhood called Miracle Village. He was one of about 85 sex offenders who had quietly settled there under court order after finishing their prison sentences. It was a lonely exile but preferable to sleeping under bridges like so many other sex offenders around the state.

Now he was standing at the front of the congregation — on Ash Wednesday, no less — flanked by two other Miracle Village residents who were going to accompany him on the hymns. 

Stoffel, 37, wanted to show the congregation that he was more than a criminal. He wore nice slacks and a dress shirt and tried to be, in his words, "perfect." Still, even Pastor Patti Aupperlee, who had invited the men to the service, couldn't reassure them.

"I don't know what's going to happen," she said. 

Just before 7 p.m., a woman in her late 50s found her usual place seven rows back on the right. Lynda Moss, the church treasurer, had attended First United Methodist since she was little. She had harbored an aversion to sex offenders almost as long. It was the reason that she had once stormed into the pastor's office to tell her: "Those people will never change."

No one that day expected who would end up changing.
 
IN 2009, AN ACTIVIST PREACHER named Richard Witherow decided he needed to do something about the men he called "modern-day lepers." 

In Florida, state law forbids sex offenders from living within 1,000 feet of a school, park, designated bus stop, day care center or playground. Some local laws push the buffer to nearly half a mile. 

Witherow saw the consequences of these regulations.  

The town of San Antonio, north of Tampa, virtually banned sex offenders two years ago. In Miami, a few dozen lived for years under the Julia Tuttle Causeway. The Bradford County Sheriff's Office stakes big red warning signs in front of sex offenders' homes. 

Witherow wanted a place for the men — a mix of sexual offenders and more serious sexual predators — where they wouldn't bother too many other people. In the middle of thousands of acres of bushy sugarcane, just east of Pahokee, he found Pelican Lake, a collection of squat yellow duplexes that had been built as a company town for sugar workers. He rented dozens of properties, and the landlord evicted several families with children. Witherow called it Miracle Village.