PAHOKEE, Fla.- They live in your neighborhoods and around your loved ones. Right now, nearly 40 thousand sex offenders are registered in the state of Florida. It is a scary statistic but what may surprise you is one South Florida church has created a refuge for the convicted criminals to live, work and heal.
If you head toward Palm Beach County, near Lake Okeechobee you might stumble upon Pahokee, Florida. The city may not look like much, but what has been built there, some said has worked miracles.
"I was out in the field the field praying and the word came to me Pahokee." Miracle Village Executive Director Frank Powers said.
" Pahokee is a very impoverished community rather dangerous community." Powers said.
In 2008, Frank Powers said he saw the run down, crime driven area as a blessing in disguise.
"Garbage from one end to the other end, the office had no roof on it the houses had boarded up windows, there were a whole bunch of wild dogs hanging out here and it was just almost like a deserted village." Powers said.
Powers had a vision to turn that deserted village into a sanctuary for state sex offenders.
"Sex offenders can't live in most communities and they're stuck. They have no place to live, they live under bridges." Powers said.
According to Florida law, sex offenders can't live within a certain distance of places like schools, bus stops, playgrounds and places of worship. Powers and his colleague Richard Witherow created Miracle Village to help transition these newly released prisoners into contributing members of society.
"The first thing we tell everybody when they get here is you're free. You're free to make mistakes, you're free to screw up we will help you." Powers said.
But that freedom, comes with restrictions. Miracle Village residents must work, pay rent and follow probation curfews. They also attend church, counseling and sex therapy classes to keep on track. Residents learn about the village through their prison classification officers.
They have to fill out an application and are given background checks before they can move in.
"We just don't take anybody if you're a serial rapist we won't take you if you're a diagnosed pedophile we won't take you here. Most of our guys here are internet pornography and boyfriend/girlfriend issues." Powers said.
Powers said residents can stay until they've fulfilled probationary periods or longer if they wish. He said in just a few short years, he's actually witnessed the village work miracles. He said staff members like Director Chad Stoffel and Operations Director Ted Rodarm are prime examples.
"I came to miracle village because I had nowhere to go after being released from prison." Stoffel said.
" I was released from prison in 2009. In the months before my release I planned to go back to live with my mom until I was able to get on my feet. She passed away and I had no idea where I could go or would go ." Rodarm said.
Rodarm said he went to Miracle Village looking for shelter but found a whole lot more.
" They had given me an opportunity, a 2nd chance they offered me love." Rodarm said.
Through the comradery and companionship, Rodarm said he discovered a lifetime of support.
" One of the first people that I met when I got here was a woman by the name of Rose and we became friends and were married last September right here at Miracle Village." Rodarm said.
Beyond the dark pasts, the three said Miracle Village offers convicted sex offenders a bright future.
" We all watch out for each other, we're always encouraging each other to make good choices and we're just a great big family." Stoffel said.
"They start taking pride in themselves again they start holding their heads high and realize "I'm not a bad person I made a mistake and I'm not going to make that mistake again. These guys are now working and productive citizens and very much apart of not just miracle village but a community as a whole and that is success ." Powers said.
Powers said he hopes Miracle Village's success will inspire other organizations to create similar sanctuaries. To learn more about Matthew 25 ministries and Miracle Village click on the big red 4.