NPR.org : Pastor Offers Sex Offenders A New Start (includes audio report)
Florida- Pastor Witherow believes people can change. At Miracle Park, those on probation attend weekly court-ordered sex therapy sessions. He also offers anger-management classes and sessions on relationships, inner healing and life skills.
Witherow has authored a book about sex offenders called The Modern Day Leper. He says he could have worn the same label as the men at Miracle Park. He was 18 years old when he met his first wife. She was just 14, and before long she was pregnant. A judge allowed them to get married but told Witherow he could have been charged with statutory rape. "If that would have happened in today's society, I would have been charged with sexual battery on a minor, been given anywhere from 10 to 25 years in prison, plus extended probation time after that, and then been labeled a sex offender," he says.
Witherow once had a ranch for sex offenders in Okeechobee County. But zoning law changes forced that facility to close. His search for another spot brought him here, to a small community he renamed Miracle Park. It's a collection of duplexes about 3 miles east of the town of Pahokee, in rural Palm Beach County.
"It's open to everybody," Witherow says. "However, the only ones that are really looking to be out here in the boondocks and pay $100 a week to live with somebody else, basically, are those who don't have anyplace else to go, which are the sex offenders."
Witherow didn't have the $5.5 million the owner wanted for the property. So instead of buying it, he became the property manager. One of his first acts was to let families with children know that a community of sex offenders was moving in, and that they might want to move out. Most of the families left. Several later sued, saying they were forced from their homes unfairly (the shoe's on the other foot).
Henry Crawford, the vice mayor of Pahokee says that because Miracle Park is located outside of the city limits, there wasn't much local officials could do about it. He believes the sex offenders deserve a place to live. He just wishes it wasn't here. (That is the problem with residency laws; they push sex offenders into clustered areas because most parts of municipalities are made to be off-limits to them and idiots like this don't have an answer to that problem).