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FL: OUTCASTS Inside the community where hundreds of pedophiles live surrounded by gator-infested waters

HUNDREDS of sex offenders live in a 24-acre private, isolated community along a miles-long Florida road lined by gator-infested waters and surrounded by thousands of acres of sugar cane.

The community has been self-described as a safe haven for sex offenders who need a place to live because of the state’s laws that requires anyone on the registry to live between 1,000 and 2,500 feet from anywhere children might be.

 

 

It started as a pastor’s vision to help recently released inmates convicted of sex crimes in 2009 and evolved into a nonprofit organization seemingly accepted by the closest city of Pahokee.

Restoration Destination, formerly known as Miracle Village, is located along a miles-long stretch of Muck City Road and is about three miles east from the heart of Pahokee and Lake Okeechobee.

Hundreds of men and women required to be register as a sex offender have come in and out of the religion-based community that provides counseling, low-income housing and job placement.

The private community said Restoration Destination will have a booth at Pahokee’s bicentennial celebration.

 
The program continues to build on Pastor Dick Witherow’s work of helping sex offenders reintegrate into society and helping educate the public about people who live there.

Residents are screened, and violent sexual offenders or those with a prior criminal history are generally denied.

 

Some of the cases involve an 18-year-old man dating someone who he thought was older but turned out to be 14 years old or a man who was seen by a child urinating in public, according to previous reports.

It’s unclear how many people live in the community now, but a 2018 documentary by the BBC said there were about 300 people living there at the time.

 
“Our goal for each resident is to provide everything necessary to restore them physically and spiritually,” the nonprofit wrote on its website.

“We have made a tremendous impact in their lives by giving them the opportunity to succeed. These successes have resulted in a decrease in homelessness and unemployment, reduced recidivism and re-incarceration, increased public safety and, ultimately, a savings to taxpayers.”

 

FLORIDA’S SEX OFFENDER LAWS FORCE ISOLATION
Registered sex offenders in Florida can’t live within 1,000 feet of a school, day care center, park or playground, and can include other places where children frequent such as swimming pools, bus stops and libraries.

Some cities – such as Miami and Jacksonville – more than double the restrictions to up to 2,500 feet – about half a mile – which forced offenders into near isolation.

 “Our office regularly receives calls from all parts of the country from people not knowing where else to turn,” Restoration Destination wrote on its site. “Often we’re able to help with advice and referrals and offer prayer. We’ve been described as a ‘beacon of hope’ for the hopeless.”

 

SNAPPER BRINGS ATTENTION TO THE MISSION
In January of 2013, photographer Sofia Valiente took residency at Miracle Village for months and took pictures of everyday life.

Nearly 10 years later, Valiente’s photos continue to be circulated as one of the best inside looks into the community.

In a January 2015 question and answer with Vice, Valiente discussed her experience.

 One of the questions Vice asked was, “Can you give me a walkthrough of your approach? What were your preconceptions?”

Valiente said, “It was a delicate process. I had no idea what to expect and assumed the worst. Anytime a sex offender is mentioned in the news there is that general fear.

“But after speaking with some of the residents, I saw that they weren’t monsters. They weren’t different from you and I, which compelled me to make the work.

“I knew there were cases that could potentially be serious, so I always had an open mind when approaching each individual. I soon found out that they were more afraid of being with me alone than I was with them, though.”

 

Source with multiple pictures: The U.S. Sun

 

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