Oklahoma law change will put 130 sex offenders out of ministry-run trailer parkThe Rev. David Nichols founded Hand Up Ministries in 1996 to help convicted felons transition to life after prison. It evolved to a program that houses mostly sex offenders because of the many restrictions on where they can live in Oklahoma.
BY JULIANA KEEPING firstname.lastname@example.org
Published: February 12, 2012
John R. Beaver served almost nine years in prison. When he was released three months ago, he didn't have enough money to pay the $16 fee for his birth certificate.
photo - Men gather outside a tent April 28 to hear David Nichols, founder of Hands Up Ministry, talks with men who live in a compound after being released from prison. The nonprofit organization runs the 14-acre mobile home park in southeast Oklahoma City. PHOTO BY JIM BECKEL, THE OKLAHOMAN ARCHIVES
The world had changed. It had sped up, gone digital. He'd lost custody of two sons. He had earned his high school diploma and gotten off the alcohol and meth that had ruled his life.
One thing will never change: John Beaver is a sex offender.
Beaver said he molested his 12-year-old niece at age 23 while on a meth binge. He got a 10-year prison sentence and 10 years probation. As a sex offender, he must register his address every 90 days for life.
Beaver, 32, is one of about 130 members of a gated Oklahoma City mobile home park who will be kicked out of his home in less than six months under a law that take effect July 1.
The law prohibits sex offenders from living together. Violators can be fined up to $2,000 and be sentenced to five years in prison.
That's a big problem for Hand Up Ministries, the nonprofit that runs the gated, 14-acre mobile home park of convicted felons at 2130 SE 59. About 100 mobile homes and travel trailers house 235 convicted felons; 225 of them are sex offenders. The park only houses men; three men typically share each residence.
The Rev. David Nichols founded Hand Up Ministries in 1996 to help convicted felons transition to life after prison. It evolved to a program that houses mostly sex offenders because of the many restrictions on where they can live.
Those who commit to change their ways typically stay for a year before they get on their feet. The park operates on $100 weekly fees and small donations from churches. The ministry usually supports about 70 men who cannot pay weekly dues, Nichols said.
A map of Oklahoma City in the office trailer at the mobile home park is covered with colored dots. The dots represent schools, parks, child care centers and other areas where sex offenders can't live in the 606-square-mile city. Most of the map is under dots.
The unassuming trailer park is squeezed into an unrestricted area in the shadow of the city's massive landfill and down the road from several strip clubs. Only the sign with red letters warning “No Women or Children Allowed Past This Point” hints that this mobile home park is different.
Beaver said the help from Hand Up Ministries is the only thing keeping him off the streets, back to a life selling drugs. The ministry lent him the money to get a copy of his birth certificate. Then he could get an ID and found temporary work at a construction site.
Along with other men who live at the mobile home park, Beaver is driven to work every day in one of the ministry's two vans. Residents do the maintenance work to keep the vehicles running. The vans break down a lot, said Carol Barber, a driver for the ministry. Barber put 200,000 miles on the van he drove last year — running the men to court, to register in person as sex offenders, to work and to doctor appointments.
Beaver said conversations with staff members in the past three months about his problems — like finding the willpower to stay away from alcohol and meth — are the only time in his life he can recall receiving support from another adult male.
Nichols is encouraging the men who will be impacted by the new law to purchase tents and camp in public to show lawmakers who supported the bill and the governor who signed it the consequence.
“They're going to be responsible for their actions now,” Nichols said. “I'm going to let them face this issue. I don't get government money, state money or anything else. These guys are basically packed together and help each other and pay the bills so they can have a place to live.”
Having men living in a trailer together is part of the park's strategy to get residents on the right track. The men are accountable for each other, office manager James Womack said.
Residents abide by strict house rules. No alcohol, drugs, pornography are allowed at the park. The curfew is midnight.
Women and children are not allowed on the property. Womack said that regulation is meant to protect the men that live there, not the women and children.
“A lot of them are still on probation and they are not allowed to be around children or women,” he said.
Men who violate the rules are reported to a council of residents, which decides a course of action, including being kicked out of the park.
A high number of the residents suffer from mental illness. That includes Beaver, who said he has been diagnosed as manic depressive and has anger issues. Hand Up Ministries drives him to the HOPE Community Services to receive treatment.
Despite the barriers, most residents have jobs. Nichols said the ministry has helped thousands of convicted felons and lowered recidivism.
Womack, who is a sex offender himself, agreed.
“This is a place for change,” Womack said. “This is a place for men who want to change their lives, get back on their feet and become productive members of society. If they want to continue to do the same things they've done, this is not the place for them.”
Oklahoma City Police Chief Bill Citty did not return calls to The Oklahoman for this story.
Lawmakers had lots to say during a lively debate leading up to the bill's passage, a recording from the state Capitol shows.
Asked about the origins of Senate Bill 852 during debate May 19 at the Capitol, Sen. Clark Jolley, R-Edmond, the bill's author, said the bill "is a request from the chief of police of Oklahoma City."
"They went to the location of the offender and discovered child pornography in abundance," Jolley said. "They didn't know where it belonged because there were four offenders living in one location."
Jolley said the measure closes a loophole in the law that forbids sex offenders from living together in homes or apartments, but allows them to live in mobile homes.
Cliff Branan, R-Oklahoma City, got emotional during the testimony while warning "You cannot figure out all the unintended consequences."
Jolley said via e-mail Friday that he understands the ministry will put additional trailers at the park so each person can rent their own. He also believe they are taking steps to start a second park at another community in the state.
The bill initially failed 21-25, but was reconsidered and passed 34-12.Difficult issue
Often times, sex offenders end up on the streets because of problems finding houses and jobs after prison, said Dan Straughan, executive director of the Homeless Alliance.
The tightening of the law likely will mean more homeless, unregistered sex offenders, he said.
That quandary was the single topic at a January monthly meeting at WestTown Resource Center, a complex where agencies provide assistance to the homeless. The meeting gets “all the homeless brains in the city” together to discuss various issues, Straughan said.
The group didn't come up with a solution to this problem.
“It seems to make sense to provide housing in such a way you know where they are,” Straughan said. “On the other hand, if someone was going to build it in my neighborhood, or even on a vacant corner of WestTown, I'd be troubled by that.
“City Rescue Mission, Salvation Army, just can't take that population. Those are family shelters with women and children. They're out of the mix,” he said.
Womack served two years in prison after groping a 14-year-old's breast while drunk, he said. He faced the same charge as Beaver — lewd or indecent proposals/acts to a child — and also must register as a sex offender for life.
“We're the new lepers in society,” he said. “They don't want us in the cities. We've been cast out.”
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