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When you are a registered sex offender in America, you lose the right to choose where you want to live. By law. Your backstory doesnt matter. Nor does the nature of your crime or your excuse. You are exiled from society, and only a few places will welcome you. Like this place in South Florida. The City of Refuge. Jay Kirk reports on life in an American community—yes, that’s definitely the right word—like no other
I suppose in this case I am the offender. I got things confused and showed up a day early, but my hosts were more than forgiving. They’ve got their own little colony out in the cane fields. Down here in Pahokee, Florida. They call it City of Refuge.
As everybody now knows, sex offenders have a rough time of it after they get out of prison. Because of the registry. Because the state says they can’t live within a thousand feet of a school or a playground or a bus stop. Because they can’t live anywhere children assemble, etc. So they end up living out of their cars, under highway overpasses, or in the woods, like fearful animals, like homeless lepers. You could say they’re lucky to be here, even if it is four miles from anything resembling a town, not much of a resemblance at that, and the “city” (really more of a village) being just a lonely former barracks built by U.S. Sugar for migrant workers in the ’60s.
Sixty-one concrete bungalows on twenty-four acres, with 120 resident offenders at any given time, surrounded by hundreds of thousands of acres of sweet, sugary nothing. A couple of dozen older Jamaicans still live here, too, but the sex offenders arrived six and a half years ago when Pat Powers, an offender himself, came and claimed the place in the name of Jesus Christ. They live in this exile, of course, because there is nothing lower than their kind. […]