REPORTER:  Aaron Thomas
 
RICHARD SEARS:   I actually fondled my two 11-year-old granddaughters.
 
CHRIS:   I was charged with lewd or lascivious molestation and battery.
 
HARRY:   I went to prison in 1998 for molesting my granddaughter, step granddaughter.
 
DOUG:   I was arrested for two counts of lewd lascivious battery, victim 12 to 16.
 
Deep in the sugar cane fields of southern Florida is a township they call Miracle Village. It's a Christian mission and almost everyone who lives here is a convicted child sex offender.
 
DOUG:  I had met this girl at the bar and while me and her started talking, she ended up coming over to my friend's house. I had woke up to her at 3 o'clock in the morning performing oral sex on me and we ended up having sex that night. It turns out that my victim, she was 15, when I was 20.
 
Doug Ryan was convicted for having sex with a minor. After prison, he was placed on Florida's sex offender registry. The list as it's called around here. Florida has some of the strictest regulations in the world and anyone on the list can't live within a thousand feet of anywhere children might gather. That leaves few options and many have ended up homeless, including Doug.
 
DOUG:  Because the terms and conditions of probation drove me to live in a tent in the woods.
 
PAT POWERS:  I was one of the top racquet ball coaches in the world and I had my own business and everything else and got involved with my students. And I was old enough, OK? But these young kids today, they're 18, 19, 17, 20. They don't know what they're doing.
 
Pat Powers helped start Miracle Village five years ago, in what was half derelict housing for migrant farm workers. The idea for a group of convicted paedophiles living together came from a pastor who thought people like Pat were being treated like modern day lepers. So he decided to start a modern day colony just for them.
 
REPORTER:   How many people have you got living here?
 
PAT POWERS:  Right now we're pushing 130. This weekend here we'll get four new guys.
 
REPORTER:  How many applications do you get?
 
PAT POWERS:  We turn down at least 20 for every one we accept.
 
You don't have to commit a violent sex crime to end up on the list and in search of a home. In Florida, crimes ranging from rape, to urinating near a playground, to inappropriate texting, land people on the exact same list. Pat's staff, weed out violent applicants and serial offenders. Finally, they conduct a critical phone interview.

PAT POWERS:  We want to know, number one - are you guilty? Because if you're not guilty, you don't need us - if you can't accept responsibilities for what you did, you don't need us. You're not going to be fitting in here at all. Because everybody comes here and said, "I messed my life up. I messed somebody else's life up. I hurt somebody."
 
CHAD STOFFEL, MIRACLE VILLAGE DIRECTOR:  Another day. Another day.
 
Chad and Jermal are preparing for a new resident to arrive.
 
CHAD STOFFEL:  Better than those prison cots.
 
REPORTER:  You're getting a new roommate today?
 
RICHARD SEARS:  That's what I hear. He's supposed to be in a wheelchair and he's a vet.
 
REPORTER:  Are you a vet?
 
RICHARD SEARS:  Yes.
 
Richard Sears has been here two years. A decade ago his granddaughters were staying at his home.

RICHARD SEARS:   One night the oldest twin - they were twins - came up and sat on my lap and she said she was cold so she went and got a blanket. The next thing I noticed she's putting my hand on her private parts. And I yanked it away and told her that's not right.  Well that went on, oh, God, for almost three weeks. And finally just to the point I didn't stop it. So it was, I should have been an adult. And done what was right.

For his crime, Richard served eight and a half years. Six kilometres away is the small struggling town of Pahokee. Many of the people here are scared and angry that so many child sex offenders have moved in nearby. So Miracle Village's residents go out of their way to make the new arrivals feel welcome.
 
CHAD STOFFEL:  Hi, Larry.
 
Today's newcomer is 72-year-old Larry Wilburn. He's had a long drive from prison.

LARRY WILBURN:  I'm glad to be home.
 
CHAD STOFFEL:   This is your closet here. You'll have this side. OK. Got some hangers in here.
 
RICHARD SEARS:   I think that jacket will fit him neat.
 
CHAD STOFFEL:  This jacket is up for grabs if you need a jacket.
 
Seeing a child sex offender enjoy his first day of freedom after prison is a confronting sight. He may be out of jail but Larry is about to learn the many restrictions of life on Florida's sex offenders list.
 
CHAD STOFFEL:   Having to register twice a year or four times a year. If you're a day late, you're facing two to five years in prison. Having to register your vehicles, having to register your email addresses. If you have an email address and it's not registered, five years in prison.  Then if you're on probation, your curfew, and some families turn their back and then where do you go? Some friends turn their back and where do you go?
 
Just trying to find a support system and people you can talk to, trying to find employment. I was a teacher, I can never teach again. Let's be honest - I can never do it again. So I had to learn a whole new skill, so I put down the baton and picked up a hammer. So I had to learn construction just to survive.

Chad Stoffel is Miracle Village's director. He's a talented musician who grew up in a deeply religious family. The dawning realisation he was attracted to the same sex sparked a spiral of self-loathing and secrecy.
 
CHAD STOFFEL:   God, why did you make me like this? I feel weird. I hate myself." I suppressed those feelings as much as I could, even all the way through college and into when I was teaching. When I was teaching I started getting in relationships, having the high school experience. It sounds terrible but I was almost reliving high school as a 25-year-old and I had inappropriate emotions and attachments to my students and I crossed the line. When I did that, I broke the law. Was I going out of my way to hurt someone? No, I was trying to figure out who I was and unfortunately I created a victim.
 
Chad's teenage victim refused to testify against him, though. In fact Chad was convicted solely on his own confession. A confession he made when he went to a Christian therapy centre looking to cure his homosexuality. Chad believes Florida's catch-all policy is masking those who pose the biggest threat to society.
 
CHAD STOFFEL:   There is a very big broad brush that lumps all sex crimes into one category. And what that creates is masses and masses and masses of people. And if the dangerous ones are in there, there's so many that aren't as dangerous that the really dangerous ones are really hiding. All of these numbers - like in Florida, over 70,000 sex offenders - how many of them are the dangerous ones?
 
Over in Pahokee, there was little sympathy for Miracle Village when the town's new Methodist pastor, Patti Auperlee  arrived three years ago.
 
PATTI AUPERLEE, PASTOR:   We have three daughters. I was molested as a kid. So I hear there's a bunch of sex offenders around. You think about crazy people running lose all over and, watch where you're going.

CHAD STOFFEL:   I first met Pastor Patti about 2.5 years ago. She came out to the village at a combined unity service. That night she came up to me and said, "Chad, we're starting a Thursday night worship service and perhaps you could come and play the guitar for us." I said, "Yeah, I'll consider that." I was a little intimidated by the thought of going into normal society. Because I had  just gotten out of jail, it hadn't been too long.

PATTI AUPERLEE:  And I got cornered in the office, very adamantly what did I think I was doing letting those people here?  And I was crazy enough to say ‘don't you believe in the transforming power of the Holy Spirit?' Jesus performs miracles. Yes, but to anybody but those people and I was stunned.

CHAD STOFFEL:   One, two, sing.
 
Two and a half years on and Chad is leading choir practice at Pahokee's Methodist Church.
 
CHAD STOFFEL:   Try that again. Try that again...to sing.  Great.

For Chad, it's a second chance to pursue music and it's not the only example of Pahokee forming ties with Miracle Village. The weekly church dinner is now made and served by convicted child sex offenders. Even for Patti, these relationships can be challenging she personally knows one of the victims of a Miracle Village offender and she wrestles with the limits of forgiveness.
 
PATTI AUPERLEE:  I struggle with the stories of grandpa who played touchy feely with the grandchildren. Yeah, I want to smack him. Yes, what they did was wrong. Nowhere are we saying that's not wrong. But they were judged already by the court system. They've paid, a lot of them changed in prison. Prison was good for them. They don't want to go back to that.
 
Pastor Patti is more willing than most to accept people with a complicated past. But her elderly conservative congregation now seems to be following her example, making their peace one by one with their sex offender neighbours. It might be hard to believe, but Pastor Patti now sees this whole process as a blessing to her congregation.
 
PATTI AUPERLEE:   Recently, one of our government guys came up to me and said, "I'm so sorry. I had been sitting back tolerating and convinced that I'm a blessing to them and it just hit me today. They're the blessing to us.  They're blessing us as a community and I am so sorry." I said, "You can't tell me." So I grabbed Chad and I said, "You can tell Chad." Next thing Chad is sitting in the corner crying, because who tells them that?
 
CHAD STOFFEL:   When Patti decided she was going to stand with me through that it meant the world to me. I have so much respect for her. I would be loyal to her till the day I die because she proved what the true love of God is. She really proved it.
 
ANJALI  RAO:   Aaron Thomas there in Florida and Aaron tells us that there are no reports of any residents of Miracle Village reoffending. Still, the very idea of a community of paedophiles is such a difficult proposition for so many, even if the men have served sentences for their crimes. I'm sure you have an opinion on that story. Do let us know on Twitter or on our website.
 
Reporter/Editor
AARON THOMAS
 
Camera/Editor
AARON LEWIS
 
Producer
VICTORIA STROBL
 
Music composed by Vicki Hansen

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