(WSVN) - One South Florida village is made up almost entirely of registered sex offenders. Many of them can’t find a place to live in Miami-Dade or Broward counties — so they started their own isolated community. 7’s Brian Entin has our special assignment report Field of Felons.
Deep through the sugarcane. Miles and miles off the beaten path. You find a village near Lake Okeechobee and the small town of Pahokee. It is surrounded by nothing. It’s a place where no one wants to live.
Brian Entin: “Did you ever think you would end up here in Pahokee?”
Pat Powers: “Heck no.”
Pat Powers helped start what’s known as “Miracle Village.”
Pat Powers: “I just totally screwed up. I was one of the top racquetball coaches in the world.”
Like the more than one hundred others here, Powers is a registered sex offender. He was convicted of sexual contact with minors in 1991.
Pat Powers: “I thought I should be shot. I really did. I didn’t care how much time they wanted to give me in prison, I deserved it.”
Now he counsels others — like Brandon Deyo — who once lived in the village run by Matthew 25 Ministries.
Brandon Deyo: “I ended up downloading so much pornography, that I didn’t care what was coming with it.”
Deyo went to prison for child pornography.
Brandon Deyo: “Am I a risk to my community? No. I have the benefit of going through therapy that has helped me to mitigate that addiction.”
Still, Deyo would like to be closer to his friends and family in Homestead.
Brandon Deyo: “To have your roots in Miami or Broward, and then find yourself a registered sex offender — it is not just difficult — it’s almost impossible to move on with your life and recover.”
The 120 here are just a fraction of the more than 70,000 sex offenders on Florida’s registry. State law requires most of them to live 1,000 feet away from schools, parks, or playgrounds.
In Miami-Dade, a county ordinance is even stricter. Sex offenders can’t live within 2,500 feet of areas where children congregate. So, to find work, many make the trek from their remote home.
Brandon Deyo: “You would have to find a bicycle, to get to a bus, to ride for two hours, to get into town to even start putting in applications.”
Miracle Village is the only place like this in all of Florida. It is 24 acres. It used to house mainly farm workers. But now it is mostly sex offenders who live here, and many say the only time they leave is to go to work and to go to church.
Pastor Patti Aupperlee: “Without the folks who are on the registry, I don’t think our church doors would still be open.”
Pastor Patti from the nearby First United Methodist Church says one third of her congregation is registered sex offenders.
Pastor Patti Aupperlee: “We’re not the justice system. We’re the church, and where better to develop a safe and healthy relationship than in the church?”
Chad Stoffel knows that better than anyone. He’s a sex offender, and also the church’s worship leader. He says he’s finally known here for his music — not his past.
Chad Stoffel: “That stigma. That label that makes people think about the Boogie Man in the bushes lurking around playgrounds. But that’s not what this is.”
Brian Entin: “What about the people who say, ‘Well these sex offenders feel sorry for themselves. What about the victims — what they have to live with everyday?'”
Pat Powers: “Well, see that’s a big thing that we are stressing — the victims, and we like to say ‘no more victims.'”
A hundred miles away, in an area once known only for sugarcane, you find people not wanted anywhere else. Men and women out of prison — but far from total freedom.
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