Miracle Village, a small community on the border of the Florida everglades, is home to over 100 registered sex offenders—about half its population.
Florida law prohibits sex offenders from residing within 1,000 feet of schools, parks, day care centers, or playgrounds. In certain areas of Florida, this perimeter has been extended to 2,500 feet. In 2009, a late pastor with the Christian group Matthew 25 Ministries, Dick Witherow, made the residential community available to sex offenders that may have difficulty finding places to live, given the restrictions.
“We had searched for places to live and nobody would rent to us,” said Lecil Woods, a woman living in Miracle Village with her husband, David, who was convicted of a sexual offense for having sex with his then-16-year-old girlfriend. “If it wasn’t for this place we would be homeless,” she continued.
Jerry Youmans, intake coordinator for the ministry and himself a registered sex offender, explained that the community only accepts sex offenders that abide by particular guidelines and meet certain requirements.
“We try not to accept people with a history of violence or drugs, or to take any diagnosed pedophile—that is, someone who can only become sexually aroused by a child,” said Youmans. “We want to protect the people who are already here and those who were living here before us.” The community does not allow residents that were convicted of violent sex crimes against strangers.
“It’s been a blessing in disguise,” said resident Christopher Dawson, an offender convicted of having sex with a minor whom he believed to be older. “I feel as though I have a destiny with Miracle Village. I feel at home and safe here—I love the people.”
Florida laws do allow sex offenders to live in the same vicinity as minors; as such, there are children residing at Miracle Village. However, some residents are banned from having contact with them, depending on the nature crimes of which they were convicted.