In South Florida, amidst sprawling sugar cane fields and winding rivers full of alligators, lies a small town like no other.
It’s called Miracle Village, and the vast majority of residents are convicted sex offenders. The vast majority of the inhabitants are men who live alone, but there are also a few families living in the village.
There are around 200 people living in the town, but several hundred people lived in the village at any given time.
The village receives 10 to 20 housing requests per week, but only about one of them is accepted. According to city rules, residents must not be repeat offenders, not just perpetrators of offenses against children, or have been repeatedly violent.
The town was founded in 2009 by Pastor Dick Witherow, who had worked as a prison chaplain for 30 years but was previously a detective. He wanted to create a place where convicted sex offenders could live in peace and be rehabilitated. The priest also wanted to educate the public about the townspeople and reduce prejudice against those who have been convicted of sexual offences.
He is now dead.
It can be difficult for people registered as sex offenders to find accommodation. Florida law states that they cannot live within 1 mile to 2 miles of any place where children can be found. Which is twisted and the priest called it an illogical and unjust law.
Although the town is run according to a Christian ideology, there is no requirement that residents be Christians or participate in Christian activities.
The next town is Pahokee and the people there were very against these new neighbors at first and considered them, naturally most would consider, their safety and that of their families. It got so far that some Pahokee residents threatened to mistreat any offender who moved to the nearby town, home of the outcasts.
Chad had sex with a 16 year old student.
But gradually relations thawed, and mainly thanks to the ecclesiastical work in the two cities.
It all started when a new pastor, Patti Aupperlee, took over at Pahokee Methodist Church, and she went to mass, mostly out of curiosity, at Miracle Village.
Patti herself is a victim of sexual abuse, but considers it her Christian duty to get to know her neighbors better.
There she heard a man named Chad Stoffel singing and was mesmerized by his voice. She spoke to him after mass and learned that he was a former music teacher. She hired him soon after as a choir director in her congregation in Pahokee and today the relationship is so good that some of those who move from Miracle Village don’t go far but to Pahokee and there are too many applicants accepted into Miracle Village but not enough housing at the time, they are then allowed to live in Pahokee until housing becomes available.
Media people are mostly welcome in the city and most of them were surprised at how “normal” it is. And are the residents willing to talk to the media.
A resident of the village said in a television interview that he had a relationship with a 16-year-old girl when he was 19. The relationship of wanting both. But since she was a minor, the girl’s parents sued, he was found guilty and is now on the sex offenders register.
Another of these people was also sentenced to 19 years, but his girlfriend was 14 years old.
The aforementioned music teacher, Chad Stoffel, had sex with his 16-year-old student.
Another said he raped his brother when they were teenagers: “It’s unforgivable and I can never redeem myself.”
Most people have accepted the existence of the city today and believe that very positive work is being done there. No resident has been accused of sexual misconduct since its inception.
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