I suppose in this case I am the offender. I got things confused and showed up a day early, but my hosts were more than forgiving. They’ve got their own little colony out in the cane fields. Down here in Pahokee, Florida. They call it City of Refuge.
As everybody now knows, sex offenders have a rough time of it after they get out of prison. Because of the registry. Because the state says they can’t live within a thousand feet of a school or a playground or a bus stop. Because they can’t live anywhere children assemble, etc. So they end up living out of their cars, under highway overpasses, or in the woods, like fearful animals, like homeless lepers. You could say they’re lucky to be here, even if it is four miles from anything resembling a town, not much of a resemblance at that, and the “city” (really more of a village) being just a lonely former barracks built by U.S. Sugar for migrant workers in the ’60s. Sixty-one concrete bungalows on twenty-four acres, with 120 resident offenders at any given time, surrounded by hundreds of thousands of acres of sweet, sugary nothing. A couple of dozen older Jamaicans still live here, too, but the sex offenders arrived six and a half years ago when Pat Powers, an offender himself, came and claimed the place in the name of Jesus Christ. They live in this exile, of course, because there is nothing lower than their kind.
Considering how welcoming they are, however, I’m inclined to resist the urge to assume the worst—and anyway, I don’t particularly want to know the specifics of any of their crimes. Society has already exacted its debt, is my thinking.
A sex offender is a sex offender, and you’re branded for decades or even life. In the eyes of society, as sex offenders, they are all equally guilty. All treated with equal abhorrence. If it weren’t for City of Refuge, they’d be out there on their own. Here is exile that is also asylum from the larger, unforgiving world. Here is, weirdly enough, real community. And when I say community, I don’t mean that bourgeois civic vagueness you always hear the co-op crowd chattering about. I mean the kind of community that would protect you from vigilantes intent on dragging you out of bed in the middle of the night to take turns kicking your teeth down your throat.
Picture: U.S. Government [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons