By Sandy . . . Illinois statute 720 ILCS 5/11-9.3(b-10) states, “It is unlawful for a child sex offender to knowingly reside within 500 feet of a playground, child care institution, day care center, part day child care facility, day care home, group day care home, or a facility providing programs or services exclusively directed toward persons under 18 years of age.”
The town of Aurora, Illinois, almost a hundred years ago, established a ministry called Wayside Cross. It has functioned there these many years as a halfway house/rehabilitation center for men leaving prison. Its history of taking in what many would call the “worst of the worst” and seldom having any issues or problems has, over the years, cemented a solid relationship between the city and the ministry and fostered an atmosphere of mutual respect and support.
But now that relationship is being tested to its limit. The city officials say that, for all of these years, the measurement taken to determine the cut-off point at which no registered child sexual offender could live in proximity to a nearby playground has been in error and the measurement between park and Wayside is in actuality less than 500 feet.
It needs to be noted here that the statute does not prohibit parks, only playgrounds. According to reliable sources, the nearby park, McCarty Park, has never had playground equipment and was not designated a playground. Only recently have a few pieces of play equipment (two hobby horses) been installed, and it was after that occurred that the “discovery” of the erroneous measurement was made and the ministry notified that those on the registry could not be in residence there.
A call to the office of the mayor of Aurora and a request to verify or deny that information resulted in a spokesperson in the mayor’s office initially telling me that before I could receive an answer, I would need to complete and file my request under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), but I was then transferred to the planning and zoning department. From there I was transferred to the legal department, and from there I was directed to call the parks department. Coming full circle, the supervisor in the parks department told me that I could certainly have the information I sought — as soon as I filed and they received a FOIA request. I will say that everyone I spoke with in Aurora was remarkably nice and polite. Five stars for manners.
I have a new question now; not only do I want to know when the hobby horses were installed; I want to know what is so classified about that information that a FOIA request must be filed.
What is not in question is that those on the registry, 20 men, including several staff members, have been served 30-day notices that they must leave.
Those whose convictions were for sexual crimes have always been part of the fabric of Wayside Cross, and from all indications, this has never created a conflict or a problem. In fact, according to a Chicago Tribune piece, “Police-related matters are not the issue: Even the Aurora Police Department acknowledges Wayside runs a tight ship that has resulted in fewer problems than other areas of the city.”
The mayor and city officials are adamant. The men and the ministry are devastated.
NARSOL reached out to those at the ministry, and one of the registrants, one who has become a staff member, shared his confusion, fear, and devastation, and I have his permission to share it with our readers.
This is XXX’s story. I could write ten thousand words, and none would even begin to show the heart and the soul of this man as do these words of his.
Over four years ago I was released from prison I was hoping it was the end of the worst nightmare I had ever had. Because of the mistakes I had made, I had lost everything. I had lost my job, my home, and all of my friends. Everyone and everything I knew was gone. My life was gone.
What I prayed for every night was a chance to start over, to be able to make amends somehow, to have a new beginning. During the last few months of incarceration, I wrote to Field Services and my counselor at the prison to find some direction of where to go, where to live, how to get started with this new beginning. They did not ever answer me. I sent requests nearly every day and did not even get the courtesy of “I’m sorry but I can’t help.” I was ignored.
On the day I was released, it was 15 degrees and snowing, and all I was given was a sweatshirt and a pair of sweatpants. The last thing a correctional officer said to me was, “I’ll see you when you get back.” I had nowhere to go, no way to get there, and nothing to do when I arrived there – wherever there turned out to be. No money, no one to help point me in the right direction, no hope at all.
After two days I tried to kill myself. Only by the grace of God and a miracle did I survive. While in a hospital in the following days, I talked with the discharge specialist there. It was her job to find some place for everyone to go. She came back to me and said she could not find any place for me due to my being required to be on the sex offense registry. When the person whose profession it is to do these things can’t help, I knew it was not going to get better.
Through another miracle I made my way to Wayside Cross Ministries in Aurora, Illinois. They did not care about my former life. All they wanted was for me to become something better, and after a little while I was on the way to doing just that.
I have spent the last four years making small steps to change for the better and have been blessed to find one of the rare places in this state to be able to do that. I know I am not the same person I was. I was able to graduate from the program, find a church, and find a mentor to work with me. Most of all, I found a reason for living. I was able to continue on at Wayside on the staff. Now I was able to help those men who were as broken as I had been, to help them on a path to transformation. My prayers had been answered through Wayside’s efforts.
Every three months or sooner I went to the Aurora Police Department to register. There were never any issues. The officers were always courteous with me, and it went quickly and smoothly, easing my fright and shame.
Then Wednesday, June 26, 2019 came. I was called down to an office. There was an officer there with a long list of people to see and a stack of letters. I was told I had 30 days to move. Why? I was so confused. What had I done? Legally I could still work here, but my job is one where I have to live on site, so I would soon be homeless and unemployed. It makes no sense. There was a park down the street? So what? The park has been there for well over 100 years, and Wayside has been here for almost that long. I knew that there had been no changes in the law this year. I and many others had registered legally at this address forever. It made no sense. What was new now? Why could I legally work here, during the day, when there are people at that park but not stay here at night when the park is closed? It made no sense. It still makes no sense.
Is this a political fight? If it is, it is not mine. Is this instigated by someone with a cold heart who just wants to heap on punishment? I don’t know. All I know is that 20 of my brothers and I will soon be forced to leave the only place we could find that would give help, give us a second chance, keep us accountable, and allow us to become fully-functioning, contributing members of society and this community.
What will happen next? Again, I don’t know. Only God knows, and it is only by His grace and mercy that I have made it to this point, that I have a transformed life and a new heart because Wayside gave me the second chance that no one else would. Once again, I don’t know where I am going, or how I will get there, or what the future holds. Right now I am scared and confused, and the scariest of all is that I don’t know when that will end.
Robert Browning once wrote, “God’s in His Heaven, all’s right with the world.” If this is true in Aurora, Illinois, some intervention, divine or otherwise, will prevent anyone having to leave Wayside Cross against his will, and the fright and confusion and uncertainty about the future will come to an end.