Miracle Village

Sofia Valiente

2013 - 2014

Pahokee, Florida, United States

In southern Florida on the southeast corner of Lake Okeechobee lies a small community called Miracle Village. The rectangular compound made up of 52 off-white duplexes on 6 streets and 2 roads was formerly used to house migrant workers that would work in the surrounding miles of sugarcane fields. Now it’s home to over 100 sex offenders. The community was founded four years ago by a Christian ministry that seeks to help individuals reintegrate into society. The residency restriction is the most difficult law to abide by for sex offenders since they must live a minimum of 2,500 feet from any bus stop, school or place where children congregate. Thus the village is isolated— 5 miles from the closest small town of 8,000 inhabitants and 40 miles from the closest city in the West Palm Beach area. Over a year and a half, I befriended, lived among and photographed the residents of Miracle Village. The men are mixed in age and from various educational and ethnic backgrounds. Together they are all coming to terms with the permanence of living with the label. There is also one woman. In my book, I have chosen 12 individuals that tell the story of a community where everyone shares the same label.

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  • The houses of Miracle Village.

  • Paul standing outside on his porch.

  • Paul's last letter from his wife. "All that's left is my 'Dear John' letter"

  • Gene starting up his El Camino on a morning in the village.

  • Gene laying down with his dog Killer. "Only a fool would truly trust anyone if you are a sex offender."

  • Ben taking a walk around the sugarcane fields that surround Miracle Village.

  • David puts away Christmas decorations with another resident, Matt. "Honestly I'm the one who says thank you cause being sentenced to prison saved my life from drugs. And I was blessed with a safe place to live and a place where I fit in at." David's crime was being in a relationship with his 16 year old girlfriend. He was 19 at the time.

  • Matt and David relaxing on David's porch after a day of mowing the lawn in the village. They make minimum wage working for the ministry doing various jobs including lawn work on the property. "David and I are like two peas in a pod."

  • Richard playing basketball in the village.

  • "Living in Miracle Village is quiet, peaceful, yet isolated. When people call me about jobs, they never know where Pahokee is. Being constantly working, I don't get out as much as I would had I had the time. It is also more isolated when I have my son here since I can't put others at risk. I know there are cliques, as there are in most places. I am kinda glad I am so busy all the time so I don't have to deal with all the drama."

  • Richard in his kitchen. "Up until the age of 18, I had a terrible stutter. I hated talking. I was always a good student and often knew the answers to the questions asked in class. However, I never raised my hand because I dreaded being called on. My stutter was bad, and when I was talking to a girl it was even worse. When I discovered chatting in 1988, that I could communicate without having to talk, it was the greatest thing ever."

  • The church, Jacob's destiny at Miracle Village during Christmas time. Service is every Sunday morning and welcomes the residents as well as people from outside the village.

  • Rose sitting outside of the church. "People judge you, you're a monster. I am the only female here who is a registered sex offender. I can go to court and pay hundreds of dollars to get it taken away, but it doesn't bother me now. All these guys look to me as a sister."

  • Rose's refrigerator with an image of her kids. The last time she saw them was many years ago.

  • Tracy wearing his wig and a shirt that he designed in his bedroom.

  • Lee laying down inside his room. Lee went to prison when he was 18 and served 12 and a half years of his 15 year sentence. He is serving the other 2 and a half years on conditional release. His restrictions include a 7pm curfew, no driving other than for employment purposes- not alone, no internet, monthly urinalysis, no contact with minors even family members, GPS monitoring and paying the cost of his supervision. He must register as a sex offender for the remainder of his life.

  • Mike before going out to a bar. "I went to a bar called Boonies and started talking to one of the servers that reminded me of my very first love. We seemed to hit it off well to the extent of exchanging numbers and agreeing to a date. I eventually was honest with her and told her of my charges. I would love to fall in love"

  • Doug playing cards inside his room.

  • A drawing by Doug.

  • Doug after a day of working outside. He helps out in the community by doing occasional lawn work and other maintenance jobs. "I was traveling with the carnival until I was 20 years old. I had a friend of mine named Chris Billows, also known as Nightwolf. Him and my mom used to work at McDonalds together. After I got into trouble I became homeless and couldn't get a job so I lived 2,500 feet into the woods. Sometimes my friends would come hang out and we'd play manhunt."
    "On July 9, 2013 I moved to Miracle Village. I like living here. I have a home and a key and real friends that care about me."

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