Helping Florida’s sex offenders: “Somebody has to do it.”

 

By Steve Yoder . . . Baptist minister Glenn Burns calls the evening of April 7, 2016, the “crucifixion.” It was the toughest test of his 40-year career.

Burns leads a Christian social services ministry in northern Florida called the Good Samaritan Network. Until last April, the nonprofit was headquartered in the town of Woodville, just outside Tallahassee. Its food bank served 7,000 people a month. It also ran a thrift store and a home for women transitioning off the street from sex work. And it operated a Christian home for men reentering society after prison who had no other place to live. Many of them were on Florida’s registry of sex offenders.

It was that last program that got Burns in trouble. As in other states, Florida’s state-run registry puts the names, photos, and addresses of those convicted of sex crimes on a public website. In Woodville, a few neighbors had searched the site and found that 11 of the 16 men at Good Samaritan’s home for ex-offenders were on the list. They called the program to find out why it served people they thought were dangerous. There was a school less than a quarter of a mile away.

Burns invited the neighbors in for a tour of the facility and to learn about the program’s work: teaching men skills they’d need to transition from prison to civilian life, giving them jobs, providing spiritual direction. Staff closely supervised the men. The state corrections department confirmed to a local paper that none of the men was out of compliance with the terms of his parole.

The visitors seemed satisfied. . . . But another group of neighbors wasn’t satisfied. About two dozen of them showed up to protest in front of the program’s offices. “Move the group of trash out of Woodville,” read one sign, according to a news report. The protesters demanded a meeting, and the county commissioner called one for the next day at the Woodville Elementary School. . . .

The commissioner opened the meeting for questions, and a man asked how Good Samaritan had gotten a permit to operate. The commissioner said he wasn’t responsible for keeping track of every permit. Burns said he’d take the question. He got only a few words out before the crowd shouted him down. “Baby rapist!” a woman screamed. “You ought to be ashamed of yourself!” someone yelled. On his third try, Burns told the crowd that the program was going to move.

Another question came in, and when Burns tried to answer, the crowd silenced him again. Then Sheriff Mike Wood stood up. “I’m an old boy. I grew up here,” he said, according to Burns. “We have more than 600 registered sex offenders in this county, and we’ve been monitoring this man’s program for many years. And I’ll tell you, the safest sex offenders in this county sleep under this man’s roof.”

A Good Samaritan volunteer grabbed the mike. “You bunch of hypocrites,” she said, pointing at members of the audience. “You, and you, and you, were all in our store yesterday, and these very men you’re persecuting carried your food to your car.”

That stopped the shouting. Burns answered every question raised about the program. Gradually the signs were lowered and people started easing out the door. Within half an hour, some of the women who’d been screaming were talking quietly with Beth Burns, who runs Good Samaritan’s program for former sex workers. . . .

Programs like Good Sa­maritan, [advocates] say, don’t just minister to society’s lepers. By giving ex-offenders a place to live, jobs, and social support, Christian ministries can help society move toward a world of no more victims.

But they’re fighting ongoing official efforts to fence off those who have served time for sex crimes.

At the other end of Florida is an activist who’s carried on a two-decade battle to isolate those with a sex-crime record.

In 1996, prominent Florida lobbyist Ron Book and his wife hired a Honduran immigrant named Waldina Flores to be a nanny for their 11-year-old daughter. . . Perhaps a year into her tenure, Flores began sexually abusing Lauren. . . . Lauren Book eventually told a psychiatrist what was happening, and Flores was arrested. In 2002, Flores was sentenced to 15 years in prison for sexual battery and molestation.

Since then, Ron Book has made it his mission to keep anyone convicted of a sex crime away from kids. In 2005, he helped Miami Beach pass the country’s first municipal ordinance restricting where those who are on sex offender registries can live—houses and apartments within 2,500 feet of a school are off limits. Most of the county’s municipalities soon enacted similar laws, as did counties and cities in other parts of the state.

The new rules left ex-offenders with few options for where to live. A 2009 study found that 96 percent of homes and apartments in Miami-Dade County were off limits. Affordable apartments were especially hard to come by—there were only 43 available outside ban zones at the time of the study. Homeless shelters and subsidized housing don’t help since they’re under the same restriction.

Registrants have responded by setting up squalid homeless encampments in the few places they’re allowed to live. Last summer, investigations by local newspapers found that 270 registrants were camping in a warehouse district near Hialeah. Their tents were moldy and full of insects. Rats scurried along the paths between them. Without bathrooms and running water, the surrounding area became an open sewer. Local businesses were up in arms.

Miami-Dade County commissioners now are considering a draconian move. An ordinance introduced in November would make it illegal for those with a sex-crime record to camp on county property even if they have nowhere else to go. If it passes, registrants will face prison time for sleeping outdoors.

In August, Book visited the warehouse district encampment in his role as head of the Miami-Dade County Homeless Trust. But he was unmoved: “The Constitution doesn’t guarantee where you can live when you break the law,” he told a local paper. . . .

The impact of such residence bans on deterring sex crimes has been well researched. A U.S. Department of Justice roundup of the results of eight studies on these policies notes that “there is no empirical support for the effectiveness of residence restrictions.” In fact, the unintended consequences of such rules, the Justice Department said, include “loss of housing, loss of support systems, and financial hardship,” which “may aggravate rather than mitigate offender risk.”

Research like that is at the heart of Burns’s argument about the need for a Christian residential program. After Good Samaritan was forced out of Woodville, Burns scrambled to locate housing for the men. For a few weeks, he rented rooms in a crumbling motel east of Tallahassee. But two of his guys couldn’t go there: while the city has no blanket residency restriction like Miami, a state law forbids ex-offenders on probation for a sex crime from living within a thousand feet of a school, and the motel was too close. Both men ended up homeless and back in prison—not for new crimes but for technical violations of their probation terms, Burns said.

In July 2016, a Pentecostal minister in north Tallahassee stepped in to offer Good Samaritan space in a strip mall his church owned. Then two supporters offered the nonprofit three houses and land on the west edge of Tallahassee for the residential program for men. . . .

All the men have to either hold a job or attend school. Their names and photos appear on the sex-offender registry and most lack job skills, so they struggle to find work. Those who can’t are given jobs in the program in exchange for a small stipend.

The crimes for which they’ve served time run the gamut. . . . “I’ve made so many mistakes,” [Chris] says, tearing up. “I’m stressed that I won’t get a job. And I’m worried I won’t find a permanent place to live.” . . . Adam says that he downloaded a lot of illegal songs and movies. In March 2015, he downloaded a file that he says turned out to show two girls, 14 and 15, on a bed, clothed but kissing. Two weeks later, the cops raided his home and seized his electronics. They found ten files that involved child pornography. . . . Adam went to prison for 15 months. . . . He’ll be listed on Florida’s sex offender registry for 25 years. . . .

Burns says registrants are the easiest population he’s had to work with. “They’re so grateful to be given any help,” he says. . . . He wants them to change what they can control—learning work skills, living free of alcohol and drugs, gaining the attitudes they’ll need to persevere, deepening their Christian faith.

But privately he says that current sex offender laws create the conditions that make future offending more likely. . . .[W]hen it comes to keeping his guys straight, he thinks current policies—especially posting their names and photos on registries and limiting where they can live—are doing more harm than good. “I’m very sensitive to the perspective of the victims and their families. I get it,” he says. “But a hopeless person is a dangerous person.”

That conclusion is supported by multiple evaluations and reentry studies: those who have served time need support, not isolation. Ex-offenders are less likely to commit another crime when they have jobs, housing, and social support.

Two Tallahassee law enforcement leaders don’t need convincing. Crisna Logan, inmate programs director for the Leon County detention center within the sheriff’s office, says she wants to stop seeing the same people cycling back to prison. Programs like Good Samaritan do that by offering hope, she says. “They’re definitely beneficial, especially for those with a sex-crime record because society has given up on them.” The probation officers she’s spoken to say they’re happy about the work of people at Good Samaritan because “they give [their guys] a curfew and jobs, and they hold them accountable. . . . We’re all on the same team.”

Another supporter is state attorney Jack Campbell, chief prosecutor for the district that covers Tallahassee. “It’s extraordinary the way this sex offender legislation has been passed. It makes it difficult for sex offenders to exist in society.” He says those who’ve served time for a sex crime need places to live and a life coach to comply with the thicket of rules they’re subject to. He supports what Good Samaritan does “because if we’re going to have these people reenter our community, then we have to give them a path to doing so successfully,” he says. . . .

America’s singular sex-offense regime means the issue won’t go away anytime soon. Only a few countries operate public registries, and the U.S. system is far and away the most extensive in terms of the number of people registered, length of registration, and degree of public access to names, photos, and addresses. And no country outside the United States appears to restrict where registrants can live.

Burns says Good Samaritan wants to replicate its work elsewhere, partnering with other churches. So many men are coming out of prison with a sex-crime record, Burns says, that the program could have “a hundred guys overnight” if it had the capacity.

“Not everybody is called to work with this population, so I have no hard feelings if someone doesn’t—we get it,” says [Good Samaritan program manager Andy] Messer. “But somebody has to.”

Read Steve’s full article here.

 

 

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  • This topic has 17 replies, 2 voices, and was last updated 1 year ago by AvatarLinda kay Rivers.
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    • #32420 Reply
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      Maestro

      •Since then, Ron Book has made it his mission to keep anyone convicted of a sex crime away from kids•

      Yeah sure, Ron, we all see how that helped YOUR daughter. I’m quite positive Mr. Book did a background check and this nanny came up clean. So…background checks = bullshit.
      They don’t tell you the FUTURE of the person you’re hiring. Keeping “convicted” sex offenders away from kids didn’t stop an un-convicted woman from committing a sex offense against HIS kid did it? Nnnnnnnope!

      •“I’m very sensitive to the perspective of the victims and their families. I get it,” he says. “But a hopeless person is a dangerous person.”•

      So anyone who gets convicted of what a legislative team deems an “offense” is somehow dangerous? I don’t like when we keep kissing the asses of the law makers and the general public by saying what they WANT to hear. We need to start saying what they NEED to be told.
      If the legislature decided to make scratching an itch on your crotch a “sexual” offense, does that mean people who scratch their itch are dangerous?

      •Adam says that he downloaded a lot of illegal songs and movies. In March 2015, he downloaded a file that he says turned out to show two girls, 14 and 15, on a bed, clothed but kissing•

      Now THERE’S a “dangerous” fellow!

      •The probation officers she’s spoken to say they’re happy•

      The probation officers need to shut up. In many states that don’t have state restrictions for sex offenders, it’s the probation conditions that make people homeless and struggle.
      I don’t want to hear from probation officers unless they’re going to be honest and admit that in many cases they are part of the problem. But who expects honesty from an agent of law enforcement? I damn sure don’t.

    • #32460 Reply
      Avatar
      Trish

      @maestro
      I like what you say, because, ….guess who keeps the cycle of violence going? The Victimhood culture! It is a good solution for probation offices, because they get paid! And the ex offender gets sheeeet on..! …draaaaaged through the legal grind ! This answer only gives bare bones, actually does not do that in my opinion, this outside prison is worse! You can’t move forward, you must always convince and prove somehow, over and over again….You really are a safe person! All the people in this story are idiots….! There is not one person in their right mind can truly say looking at these pictures = the danger level these Idiots speak of ! HELLO!

      • #32553 Reply
        Avatar
        lou Fowler

        This Ron Book person is the Chairman of the agency responsible for the homeless in Miami and Dade County. He is also the main obstacle to any registrant living there who is trying to survive and overcome this tyrants self appointed oppression. He fits the true definition of a sadistic asshole who profits from the unfortunate molestation of his daughter by someone who was not on the registry.

    • #32673 Reply
      Avatar
      T

      Registrants in Florida are denied housing, jobs, medical care, and international travel, shelter during natural disasters, and are being used as scapegoats through propaganda of the “frightening high recidivism” and other sexual criminal activities and they are denied the basic human rights for the things they’ve done in the past that they will hardly do again. Shouldn’t this be a consider violation of humanitarian law and hold these politicians accountable for corruption and passing sex offender registry laws that are unconstitutional.

    • #38143 Reply
      Avatar
      linda mansfield

      I agree someone needs to help them. They are not all bad people. Murderers have a better chance of getting a job than a sex offender! Some make one mistake and it ruins them for life. If they have done it over and over, I get it. But, if they were arrested one time for it and has never gotten arrested again, and has proven to be a good person who just made a mistake..give them a chance at a good life! They are going to have to ge illegal idenification just to get a job! That is what is gonna happen. Or they will committ suicide because they see no way out! And then whose fault is it…Its societys fault. Michael jackson got away with it because of his money and status. People bought his records and went and saw him even though he was doing it all the time. Not once, not twice, but alot and noone banished him. So sad!

    • #42763 Reply
      Avatar
      Nicole

      My fiance’ was part of a sting operation. A victimless crime. 23 at the time talking to a supposed 14-year-old on Craigslist and didn’t know that they were “14” until having a conversation (the ad description didn’t say 14). Spent two years in prison and is required to register for life. The officer that does compliance checks comes every few months and it’s ridiculous when he comes at 7:30 at night and we aren’t home or at 7 AM when we are at work and the cop says he could spend up to 5 years in prison if he isn’t there when he checks in… What gives?? Is he supposed to be under house arrest, live his life holed up in the house all day and all night so that he can be seen? How does this help anyone? What does it matter where he is living anyway?

    • #42822 Reply
      Avatar
      J

      I am a registered sex offender.i got out many years ago. And since, I have built a life a good business, and have proven myself a valuable member of society.

      I have done work for many affluent people to include cops, prison guards, lawyers,etc.

      Recently, I did a search on the internet about any story that was positive about a sex offender. ( I mean like, a sex offender that did something good, or Mabey turned his life around etc.

      And you know what? Nada! Nothing! There are many stories about the bad sex offenders or kill the sex offenders etc. but not one that is positive.

      Imagine living a someone that society sees as trash.

      Well, I do it everyday. I am a good person and try to do good things for my friends, family and community.

      Wouldn’t it be nice just to hear someone say just once ( you’re doing a good job…)

      • #42848 Reply
        Fred
        Fred
        Admin

        You are absolute correct J. We are looking for people who have been able to move past their conviction and be productive members of society. You can see what I am talking about here https://humans.narsol.org/

        • #51560 Reply
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          RJ Krienheder

          HELP ME

    • #43874 Reply
      Avatar
      James

      As a mother of a RSO trying to purchase a home has been a Challenge. Finding someplace that is safe for him and away from schools or day cares. I have watched my son change from a vibrant out going person to a person who has become isolated and alone. As a parent this breaks my heart. I am disgusted by the legal system of this country who have put such a high price on for attorneys that a normal person cannot afford and because of this are subjected to the public defenders office that are over worked and underpaid. Going to court is not something they really want to do that takes time and that is the one luxury they do not have with their case loads. So take the plea bargain is the advise with the caviat that if you lose in court you could spend 15 years in prision. Really this is a defense? This is what happened to my son a known drug dealer under the age of 17 makes the accusation and I am sorry we can not bring up his record int he court he is a minor. Really but you can take his word for this but cannot show what type of person he is. Our legal system needs to be fixed and we need to throw out people who DO NOT support our consitution to the fullest because the SO laws violate our consititution,

    • #45564 Reply
      Avatar
      Jeff

      Florida sex offender registry also posts your information FOR LIFE if you just visit Florida! I made a one-time mistake of engaging a “14-year old” in an ADULT chat room. It was a sting operation and there was no child involved. I am not on the public registry in my own state and have been off probation for 7.5 years (at the urging of the probation department in my state)……..but I visited Florida for 5 days to see family for the holidays a few years ago and now my picture and information is publicly shown on the FDLE website forever. I never lived in Florida, have never been arrested in Florida and haven’t been back to Florida. Yet FDLE gets to post my information forever and I have no way to get my information removed.

      Also, neither the police nor the Sex Offender Registry in my own state were aware that Florida posted my information. I became aware because my daughter’s elementary school district discovered the Florida posting — and I received a letter from the school district saying I was banned from my daughter’s school. I can’t attend any of her school functions.

    • #49486 Reply
      Avatar
      Max DiazBelmar

      I need a lawyer who can help me reverse my plea

    • #50108 Reply
      Avatar
      Jackie

      Ok I got a wrong full convicted it a sex crime and need my case overturned it’s been 18 year’s now and I am married with a wife and dog and have no felonies and on SSI and a proud veteran and she has cancer and PTSD and I have too and it was corrupt detective that the lady set me up give details latter you can call me

    • #53835 Reply
      Avatar
      Tenna Hagan

      I have a son that was convicted of a sex crime. He downloaded some porn and without looking at it there was child porn on the recording. Since then he has had 3 strokes and his wife divorce him and he can no longer live by him self. But finding him a place to live has become a problem. I can’t afford a attorney to help with getting him off the list. Do you have any suggestions.
      Thanks

    • #56064 Reply
      Avatar
      linda

      I’m trying to get my daughter paroled from georgia to fl and i dont know where she can go in fl she is a sex offender she needs an address to be paroled to

    • #56724 Reply
      Avatar
      Tom

      I just wanted to share my story and struggle.

      I am currently registered as a sex offender. I got in trouble when I was 19 years old. What did I do? I met a 13 year old who reached out to me through AOL.

      Firstly I did not seek her out, she sought me out. But I did ultimately make the decision to meet her, even if at first I didn’t know her age. The event took place in Michigan. The most that happened is we made out. We did not have intercourse.

      In 2016 I made the move to Florida. After the move several things happened. Instead of being required to register for 25 years as is Michigan law, I am now required to register for life. I am listed as a sexual offender, not a predator. Most jobs that I apply for I never get a call back from. I am fortunate that I have been able to deliver pizza’s and one temp company did take a chance on me and loves my work.

      So when a background check is run, it should mostly come back with nothing for most. But for a sex offender, it comes back with your registration status. You can be denied employment because of this. State law does not prohibit me from living anywhere, but local ordinances do. Just found this out the hard way trying to work a project in Orlando.

      I plead guilty to a misdemeanor, but any mistake I make will make me a felon. I’ve been tempted to take my own life over and over because of this. I have no future. When my parents pass I will have no place to live.

      I made a mistake when I was a kid. I regret the mistake. But the laws are excessive. And there is no escape. I hope my plight helps shed some light for you.

    • #60689 Reply
      Avatar
      Linda kay Rivers

      MY AUTISTIC SON WITH NO PRIOR CRIMINAL HISTORY AT AGE 17 WAS THE VICTIM OF A CORRUPT COP. HE WAS EASILY COORSED INTO A COFFESSION FOR A CRIME HE DID NOT COMIT. NO TRIAL NO EVIDENCE.HE TOOK A PLEA NOT UNDERSTANDING AND THE LAWYER WE PAID THOUSANDS TO DID NOTHING FOR HIM. HE WAS RAPED BEAT STARVED AND WAS WITNESS TO CRIMES INCLUDING MURDER OF OTHER INMATES. WHEN HE FINALLY GOT OUT 8 YEARS LATER FROM A FLORIDA PRISON, HE WAS A SCARED LITTLE SOUL. tHE LIGHT WAS GONE FROM HIS EYES. hE WAS CONTINUALLY HARRASSED BY THE SYSTEM. HE WAS CONSTANTLY HAVING TO JUMP THROUGH HOOPS TO COMPLY WITH HIS REGISTRATION. HE HAD NO LIFE COULD NOT GET A JOB OR TAKE A FAMILY VACATION. HE WAS ALWAYS TARGETED FOR HIS SOCIAL SECUITY CHECK. MY WONDERFUL AND LOVING SON FINALLY TOOK HIS OWN LIFE AT 39 YEARS OLD.

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