Inside Miracle Village, Florida's Isolated Town Made Up Entirely Of Registered Sex Offenders

Among the troubling small towns that exist in America, Miracle Village in Florida might be one of the most disconcerting. The residents all have one thing in common: they're all registered sex offenders. You're probably wondering how the members of this town found one another, but it's no coincidence — they've formed a deliberate community envisioned by a minister in Florida who believes that people can change for the better.

Florida has some of the toughest restrictions on where sex offenders can live after their release from prison, so Richard Witherow designed an affordable solution for them to bunk with roommates and receive regular counseling during their probation. The community isn't for repeat offenders, serial rapists, or pedophiles, but for those who have committed sex crimes and are actively looking to steer their lives in a more positive direction.

  • There Are Many Restrictions Placed On Registered Sex Offenders

    There Are Many Restrictions Placed On Registered Sex Offenders
    Photo: LoneWolfMontana / flickr / CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0

    Since the 1990s, strict restrictions have been placed on sex offenders, especially in Florida. They have to notify public officials when they move and adhere to a 10 am to 6 pm curfew. Offenders also can't live within 1,000 feet of a school, day care center, park, or playground. Some are prohibited from using the internet or smartphones, and many have to wear a GPS-monitored ankle bracelet. They can't interact at all with minors, and they have to report for random drug testing. Because it's difficult to live anywhere or do anything, many sex offenders end up homeless or as drug addicts.

  • A Former Private Investigator Founded Miracle Village

    A Former Private Investigator Founded Miracle Village
    Photo: SBS Dateline / YouTube

    At 18-years-old, Richard Witherow impregnated his 14-year-old future wife. Now 76, he recognizes that if it had happened today, he would have been imprisoned and labeled as a sex offender. Witherow is a private detective turned evangelical pastor. He spent many years working with sex offenders in prisons, so he understands their restrictions well. In 2009, he relocated to a remote village outside of Pahokee, Florida surrounded by acres of sugar cane. He constructed duplexes and called it Miracle Village. Witherow became the property manager and promoted the area as a safe and supportive place for sex offenders to live during their probation periods.

  • The Executive Director Of Miracle Village Is A Sex Offender

    The Executive Director Of Miracle Village Is A Sex Offender
    Photo: Google / Google Maps

    One of the people in charge of the nonprofit Miracle Village Ministries is Pat Powers, a former racquetball coach who was convicted of sexual misconduct with minors in the '90s. He's now a born again Christian who works with registered sex offenders on how to move forward in the most productive and positive way possible. According to the Miracle Village Ministries' website, he defines success as "witnessing a person persevere through hard times and – against all odds – establish a life that he or she can be proud of."

  • The Residents Have Been Convicted Of Various Sex Crimes

    The Residents Have Been Convicted Of Various Sex Crimes
    Video: YouTube

    When Florida fine art photographer Sofia Valiente ventured inside Miracle Village for a special book project, she interacted with many of the residents while taking their portraits. She met one man who was convicted of having sex with his younger brother as well as an 18-year-old who had sex with his 16-year-old girlfriend. He was charged with 2nd degree sexual battery. There's one woman who lives in the community, and she was charged with molesting her children, although she was accused with no evidence by her abusive husband.

    Valiente published a book called Miracle Village, and it included essays from residents printed alongside her photographs. "I didn’t really know what I wanted to [photograph] until I met one resident, Matt, who was my age at the time," Valiente told The Marshall Project. "We had a long chat, and it was the first time I felt empathy. I saw another human being and not the monster he was made out to be."

  • One Resident Has An Unusual Conviction Story

    One Resident Has An Unusual Conviction Story
    Photo: Google / Google Maps

    It's easy to lump all sex offenders into one group of people who have deliberately abused a minor or committed rape, but some of the cases aren't what you might expect. In a Vice interview, Sofia Valiente describes the strangest case she came across: a man drunkenly peed in public, a child saw him, and his mother called the police. That man is now a registered sex offender. However, he tells Valiente that he isn't angry about his conviction — he says that the prison sentence saved him from drugs and alcoholism. He's found a community at a Methodist church in Pahokee, Florida, where he's the chef and attends all of their Bible studies.

  • Residents Must Comply With The Miracle Village Rules

    Residents Must Comply With The Miracle Village Rules
    Photo: SBS Dateline / YouTube

    At Miracle Village, the residents are free to travel during the day and find jobs in nearby towns, but they have to be inside by 7 pm at night and adhere to the rules of their probation. Some of them find work doing odd jobs around the property, which is the most convenient. According to their probation, they have to attend psychological treatment programs, and sometimes anger-management classes. A local police officer monitors the residents at Miracle Village during weekly visits.