A pastor with his own storied past established and supports a village for the accommodation of convicted sex offenders re-entering society.
Valiente’s book begins with a version of a Biblical quote from Paul 103 – “There is no judging, for we who are here have the same name.” …
It is hard… to align the words with the portraits of the men and woman who wrote them – but that is another of the tensions at play in this brave, almost impossible, project. Miracle Village is ultimately a document of a profoundly Christian place, where the shunned are offered some chance of belonging – if only among their own. It forces us to ask hard questions of ourselves, not the least being: can we, should we, forgive the most reviled of transgressors?
An NPR story from 2009 offers more background on Miracle Village and its founder, Pastor Dick Witherow.
Witherow believes people can change. At Miracle Park, those on probation attend weekly court-ordered sex therapy sessions. He also offers anger-management classes and sessions on relationships, inner healing and life skills.
Witherow has authored a book about sex offenders called The Modern Day Leper. He says he could have worn the same label as the men at Miracle Park. He was 18 years old when he met his first wife. She was just 14, and before long she was pregnant. A judge allowed them to get married but told Witherow he could have been charged with statutory rape.
“If that would have happened in today’s society, I would have been charged with sexual battery on a minor, been given anywhere from 10 to 25 years in prison, plus extended probation time after that, and then been labeled a sex offender,” he says.
Witherow knows that there are those who argue that’s what should have happened.
Witherow considers it his Christian duty to help registered sex offenders to find their place in a world which places restrictions over where they can live, and even to offer them community. Valiente’s response, through her photography, is described by the Guardian:
The end result is considered, and the sense of isolation is palpable throughout.
It is not just a documentary record of a shunned community, but an argument for understanding, rehabilitation, even forgiveness.
Posted by Rosalind Hughes