Miracle village: a second-chance refuge for American sex offenders

Camille Grange, translated by Aurélie Salignon
11 Juin 2013

A new community appeared in the very heart of Florida, in Pahokee: the Miracle Village. No, this is not the new village in fashion. This is where a certain Dick Witherow grouped together sex offenders in the hope to build them a “healthiest life”.

Since 2009, about 100 sex offenders have settled in the Miracle Village in Palm Beach County in the thick of sugarcane fields. Whatever they are guilty of pedophilia, child sexual abuse or possession of pedopornographic pictures, they all came into Miracle Village to present themselves a healthiest life. As a punishment that would have been imposed to them, they treat to themselves the luxury of thinking that being a sex offender can be cured by rehabilitation in religious morality.

“It does not matter whether you stole, deceived, lied to somebody or if you committed a sex sin. All sins are equal in Gods’ eyes, aren’t they? And there is only one way to cure sins: Jesus Christ”, declared Dick Witherow, 77.
Former private detective, he became a pastor when he was 45. Witherow took advantage from his position to visit jails and held prayer services. When a restrictive law passed in Florida concerning the life of sex offenders and even banning them from a few communities, he got interested in their fate.

In his book “The Modern Day Leper”, Witherow confesses that he could have been in their shoes. At 18, when he met his wife-to-be who was 14 then, he made her pregnant. The Court Judge told him “you are allowed to get married, but you should have been prosecuted for rape of a minor”.

In Florida, a few laws prohibit sex offenders to get closer than 300 meters from schools, parks, or even places of worship. For that reason, and with understanding for them, Dick Witherow decided to build this “haven of peace” for sex offenders.

The complex, named “Miracle Park”, is headed by the “Matthew 25 Ministries” organization with reference to the 25th chapter of the Gospel according to Matthew. The promoted values are based on a single slogan: “Do not do unto others what you would not have them do unto you”. According to Witherow, being a sex offender is not worse than being a thief. However, as any theft, it harms a third party. It is a sin among others that must be cured. The only solution seems to be listening to Jesus Christ’s voice.

Miracle Park residents can attend self-control, interpersonal or faith healing classes. Every Wednesday, they are given lessons of “sexual purification”. Thus you can meet Matt Grant, 25, sentenced for sexual child touching on a 16 years-old girl, or even Lavelle Cunningham, 32, sentenced for possession of pedopornographic pictures. Some explain that, without Miracle Village, they would be homeless. Once they are sentenced and their police record published online, it is impossible for them to find a job.

There have been many debates, following the settling in the “village”. Before welcoming those sex offenders, the Miracle Village was known as Pelican Lake Village and “ordinary families” lived there. Little negotiations between the Matthew 25 organization and property developer were sufficient to dislodge parents and children from the site. Few workers in sugarcane productions were not able to leave and still live at Miracle Park.
Pahokee Deputy Mayor, Henry Crawford, declared “I know sex offenders must have a place to live. I was just hoping that it would not be here”. Solitary confinement may not be the best solution in cases of sex crimes. As laws become each time more restrictive, the sentenced people refugee themselves at Miracle Village. Being that tolerant toward perpetrators of sex crimes- sometimes persistent offenders- could be then challenged.