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Blending the pulpit, politics and prison service, J. Allison DeFoor II forged a career that ultimately led him to minister to felons.
BY AUDRA D.S. BURCH (aburch@MiamiHerald.com)
CRAWFORDVILLE - J. Allison DeFoor II had been meditative all morning -- prayerful on his way to the Wakulla Correctional Institution, where he worships most Sundays; as he delivered communion; as he placed his right hand atop snowy-haired Ralph Matthews, a sex offender who would be freed in four days.
DeFoor uttered the blessing and challenge to Matthews, hopeful that the words would have legs, would become a shield against temptation and sin and bad decisions.
Gracious God, we thank you for the work and witness of your servant Ralph who has enriched this community and brought gladness to friends; now bless and preserve him at this time of transition.
For more than 30 years, DeFoor was a soldier for justice in South Florida, putting more people than he can count behind bars before he found a higher calling -- to offer the word of God to prisoners.
''You just hope that in some way they leave different than when they arrived,'' DeFoor says the next day over tea at his law office, 17 miles away in Tallahassee.
Over the years, DeFoor has served as an assistant public defender, prosecutor, county and circuit judge, maverick sheriff, reelection running mate of Gov. Bob Martinez. For a time, he was Gov. Jeb Bush's Everglades czar.
DeFoor played gamely throughout his public career, all the while struggling to decipher where, precisely, God fit into his life.
He found his answer in the Episcopalian priesthood, as a volunteer ministering at a state prison almost 700 miles from Key West, where he had built a storied career.
''For years, the feeling would hit me, and I would stuff it right back down in my gut,'' says DeFoor, 54, who is also state coordinator for an environmental-restoration consulting firm. ``I finally stopped running.''
Now, he is among the most fervent supporters of the faith- and character-based prison movement stirring across the country. Followers of the religious and secular initiative seek to reduce disciplinary infractions among inmates and recidivism among parolees.
At least 10 states now offer faith-based prison dorms. Already, the Florida Department of Corrections has converted three prisons into faith-based institutions -- two for men, one for women. And if the well-connected DeFoor has his way, a $75 million annex under construction at Wakulla would become the fourth.
Supporters of faith programming say inmates at the three prisons committed almost a third fewer infractions than those in nonfaith institutions. At Wakulla, where the program was launched in 2005, the recidivism rate hovers at 7 percent, compared with 33 percent at other prisons.
Skeptics argue that participants in these programs are already primed to succeed, that their rehabilitation is mostly a function of character and maturity.
''There's also a concern that if you have all the good eggs in one facility, you diminish the positive influence they could have on other inmates if they were in another prison,'' says Daniel Mears, a Florida State University professor of criminology.
A year ago this month, DeFoor was ordained where he now prays and preaches. He committed to the priesthood in front of 100 family members and friends and felons in a squat cinder-block building on the sprawling prison campus.
''Allison was open enough to allow himself to grow in his faith,'' Bishop Leo Frade of the Episcopal Diocese of Southeast Florida, who ordained DeFoor, said in an interview from Honduras. ``We have a gift in Allison, someone committed to our prison populations.''
Today, DeFoor ministers inside the medium-security complex cut off from the world by rolling barbed wire, dense patches of wood and a single winding road. Here, where 1,333 men serve time for crimes ranging from traffic offenses to murder, DeFoor is Father Allison, the soft-spoken, quick-witted guy who comes to prison in Tommy Bahama collared shirts.
At today's service, 16 men of various faiths gather in the honey-colored pews of a chapel adjacent to the Alcoholics Anonymous meeting.
''This is the Holy Ground. . . . We're Standing on Holy Ground,'' bellow these men who have done wrong.
Because no one has money for tithes, the inmates are given Post-it notes. Before services are over, they will write down something they want to offer to God -- sometimes admission of an addiction, sometimes a promise, often a fear.
''Father Allison spends a lot of time encouraging us, which is probably not easy,'' says Henry Clifton, 56, serving a life sentence for armed robbery.
In the back of the room, Terry DeFoor, a warm, petite librarian and a wife for 31 years, helps prepare for services. She, too, is here many Sundays for what she describes as ``Allison's journey.''
''Allison was ordained here, which says something about how special this place is,'' she says. ``He has slowed down, and he is at peace.''
Before donning the robe and collar, DeFoor was roaring through life, pushing, grinding his way through in the public sector, almost always in a bow tie, blazer and tasseled loafers or shorts and flip-flops. DeFoor became a Monroe County judge at 28, Monroe sheriff at 34, and a Republican candidate for lieutenant governor well before his 40th birthday. ''Ambitious'' became the word most used to describe him.
''We like to joke that Allison can't keep a job,'' says State Attorney Mark Kohl, whom DeFoor hired into his private practice in 1995.
Born in Coral Gables, raised in Tampa, DeFoor landed in Key West in 1978, five-feet-five, driven and full of ideals. He earnestly believed that he could tame the characters and unhinge the notorious drug-smuggling trade that beset the city.
As a judge in the mid-1980s, he became famous, perhaps infamous, for banishing lowlifes from the county, sometimes literally ordering them to catch one-way rides north.
''I was in a very unique place where you could do as much as you had the guts to try,'' says DeFoor, a proud seventh-generation Floridian, member of a citrus family that farmed near Tampa, now a father of three. ``The place was a bit backwater, with a transient population. We had a Conch cracker way of doing business.''
As county judge, he was publicly reprimanded by the Florida Supreme Court for campaigning on behalf of candidates for judgeships and public-defender posts and promoting an electronic monitor for convicts while he owned stock in the company that made it.
''The whole thing was crushing,'' DeFoor says, his voice trailing off. ``In some ways, it was helpful in that it took a bit of the polyanna shine off me.''
But it didn't keep DeFoor from becoming sheriff in 1988, and 18 months later, he resigned to join Bob Martinez in his unsuccessful reelection bid.
''The thing about Allison is he wasn't afraid to make changes,'' says Anne Leonard, who has worked in the Monroe sheriff's office for 28 years. ``A lot of times in the government sector, things move slowly, but he just kept pushing to get things done.''
DeFoor returned home and built a law practice in the Upper Keys. He helped revitalize the Republican Party, taught and lectured at the university level (including the University of Miami), studied history and wrote books, including one about Odet Philippe, his 20th century ancestor who introduced grapefruit to the state.
In 2002, he began to contemplate a run for Florida attorney general. But when confronted with the most daunting task of the job -- handling death-penalty appeals -- DeFoor was forced to face the dilemma that had quietly gnawed at him for years.
PULPIT AND POLITICS
DeFoor attended Episcopal church and denominational schools and was attracted by the service of both pulpit and politics.
He talks about his childhood from his Tallahassee office, where the bookshelves seem to perfectly marry the two Allisons. Among the titles: Stephen's Travels Vol. IXX;The Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius;Wealth and Democracy.
Eventually, DeFoor would serve on the boards of seminaries in South Florida -- an unwitting first step in his spiritual journey. He became a student at the South Florida Center for Theological Studies, where he earned his divinity degree in 1999, even though he wasn't sure what he would do with it.
But eventually, everything began to make sense, not so much an epiphany as a gradual realization. Ministering, saving souls, is what DeFoor believes he was meant to do. And maybe he was supposed to send people to jail before he could minister to those in jail.
DeFoor wipes away the tears. ''I finally gave up,'' he says.
It was DeFoor who persuaded Gov. Bush, a longtime friend, to offer religious teaching, academics and life-skills training at Wakulla. The faith is multi; the character is secular.
Horizons Communities in Prisons, a nonprofit whose mission is ''to prepare prisoners to live responsibly with others,'' runs the program at Wakulla. Subjects include family relations, improving credit history and financial literacy.
One Monday afternoon, a dozen inmates attend a small business class, where they learn about equipment leasing versus purchasing, niche marketing, networking and copyright laws. They learn in Classroom 123, under large banners that read: ``I AM A SUCCESS!''
''I have been to jail a few times and have never had the opportunity to learn stuff like this,'' says Ernest Gordon, serving time for burglary.
Gordon, 38, plans to open a tree-cutting business in Ocala after he is released. ''This whole program is great, because it makes you feel as if you are finally doing something right,'' he says.
DeFoor's second Sunday service, held across campus, is smaller, less formal, with 16 gray plastic chairs instead of pews.
James Takacs, 54, who says he was a Pentecostal street preacher before he began to serve 10 years for manslaughter, asks DeFoor if he can play a song. Takacs learned to play the piano 40 years ago as a Catholic altar boy. He selects Amazing Grace, beautifully delivering the Christian hymn.
Allison DeFoor stands with his eyes closed as the verses float through the room.
Aaaahmazing Graaaaaace, how sweet this sound / That sav'd a wretch like me! / I once was lost, but now am found / Was blind, but now I see.
In his sermon, DeFoor had stuck to his earlier theme of transformation. He assured the felons that he too, had struggled.
''Perhaps if I hadn't been so bullheaded, it wouldn't have been so slow,'' he says. ``We all must ask God to forgive us for whatever got us here and for the things that didn't.''
Saturday, March 15, 2008
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And yet more reason why these draconian sex offender laws will not work. More vigilante BS! When will you idiot legislatures see the MAJOR problems these laws are causing? The pubic has proved over and over and over again they cannot handle this information!
Threats plague woman with same last name as alleged sex predator
STATEN ISLAND - Her last name is Gordon, her son is roughly the same age as alleged sexual predator Christopher Gordon and she lives on the same block of Genesee Avenue that the Willowbrook preschool teacher told police is his address when he was arrested last week for sexually abusing one of his 5-year-old students.
Marie E. Gordon says she never knew or met Christopher Gordon, nor did anyone in her family.
But in the last week, Mrs. Gordon has gotten numerous harassing phone calls from anonymous people who believe she is his mother. Some of the callers even threatened to kill her son, 24-year-old Iraq veteran Gregory Gordon.
- This lady needs to place a TRACE on her phone after they call, and report it to the police, so charges can be brought up against these people. This is how you do this. You basically hang up the phone, then pick it up and dial *57 and listen to the instructions. Then contact the police and FBI.
"My daughter survived the World Trade Center, my son survived Iraq. I don't need them taken away from me by some lunatic," a distraught Mrs. Gordon said yesterday. "They say these horrible, horrible things, cursing at me and threatening to kill my son. It's just a very, very frightening experience and now I can't even leave my home."
Christopher Gordon was charged March 7 with five counts of first-degree sexual abuse and endangering the welfare of a child. He is accused of making the 5-year-old sit on his lap and bounce, or stand with her back against the wall while he rubbed his genitals on her body inside the bathroom of the Oakdale Academy on Victory Boulevard, according to court documents.
Mrs. Gordon -- whose son Gregory has served two tours in Iraq since the war began and whose daughter Marissa was working at the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001 -- said the callers all have been women and she suspects they're mothers of Oakdale students.
She notified the office of District Attorney Daniel Donovan and the police and was advised to keep her doors and windows locked, keep the lights on at all times and not to answer the door without knowing who's there. Police also told her to be aware of her surroundings and be alert, she said.
"It's terrifying," said Mrs. Gordon, adding that she has lived on the 500 block of Genesee Avenue since 1979.
Christopher Gordon's arrest report indicates that he lives just down the block.
"These women are insane. They're jumping to conclusions about a family they don't even know," Mrs. Gordon said."
- Sounds like typical Perverted-Justice mentality, and the other vigilante geek squad! Most of them are angry, hateful women who have nothing else to do except harass people. And this is proof.
A spokesman for Donovan said authorities are "reviewing the situation."
Oakdale administrator Debbie Wallach was disturbed to hear about the threatening phone calls but expressed skepticism they were placed by employees or parents of pupils.
"I have no control over who it is or isn't," Ms. Wallach said, stressing that no one with a connection to the school has made remarks to her that would indicate they're out to get Christopher Gordon's family. "To the best of my knowledge, it certainly is not anyone who is involved with Oakdale Academy as a staff member, or a parent of someone who attends the school."
Regardless, she penned a memo that was to go home with students yesterday, pointing out that there is no connection between Christopher Gordon and Marie Gordon's family.
"My heart goes out to the woman because it's certainly something she shouldn't have to go through," she said. Christopher Gordon "is responsible for what he did and nobody else."
Glenn Nyback is a news reporter for the Advance. He may be reached at email@example.com.
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SAN DIEGO -- Having sex with a minor is against the law.
Anyone who commits the crime faces statutory rape charges and possible time in prison.
Yet thousands of minors across the country are having sex with an adult -- someone 18-years or older.
When you think of a sexual predator - you imagine a monster… perhaps a man sexually abusing young, helpless children.
But it's not just sexual predators that are ending up on sex-crime registries across the country.
"I thought I was going to have a relationship with her. I didn't think it mattered," Said “Jon.”
At 17, he had consensual sex with his 14-year-old girlfriend.
When he turned 18, the girl's father went to the police and Jon was jailed for a year.
Now, other young adults in similar situations are going on those same registries.
The age of consent was the topic on the ABC News program, “20/20,” Friday night.
"I don't think he should have had to register as a sex offender."
Here in San Diego, the recent case of 20-year-old Carlos Antonio and his 16-year old pregnant girlfriend, who were living together in the girl's home with her mother's consent, raised questions.
Antonio is behind bars on charges of kidnapping and assault with a deadly weapon.
He is not facing statutory rape.
We asked San Diegans what they thought about the age of consent.
"I think it's an important issue to make sure parents are okay. You're the minor dating an adult," said Jessica Porter.
"The idea of criminalizing 14 year olds sexual intercourse with a 16 year old, that's a horrible solution to a subtle and complex issue," said Marty Klein with the Peter Sprigg Family Research Council.
Many people we interviewed said they believe there's a gray area in the law and some say it should be on a case-by-case basis.
"I think parents should be more involved, know who their kids are dating," said one.
"He should've thought about the age difference when they started dating," said another.
The age of consent varies around the world.
In the U.S., it also varies from state to state -- from 16 to 18- years old.
In California, the age is 18.
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It's not just teachers. You have politicians (Mark Foley) and TONS of cops. Just check out the CORRUPTION label on my blog, or BadCopNews.
Tampa-Area District Made Infamous by Debra Lafave Racks Up Female Teacher Sex Arrests
The arrest Thursday of a middle school teacher accused of having sex with a teenage student has thrust a Florida school district made famous by Debra Lafave into an uncomfortable yet familiar position.
Stephanie Ragusa, a 28-year-old special education teacher, was arrested Thursday and charged with five counts of lewd and lascivious battery for what sheriff's deputies in Hillsborough County described as a consensual sexual relationship with a 14-year-old male student.
Ragusa's alleged affair took place between January and May 2007 and included intercourse on at least three occasions and oral sex twice, according to the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office. The encounters took place in Ragusa's Tampa apartment and in the back seat of her Lexus, according to the sheriff's office.
A school resource officer met with the student, now 15, after rumors began swirling about an affair involving a teacher. Detectives then interviewed the teen and his parents. The teen told authorities that Ragusa had a pair of tattoos on "either side of the groin area" that could only be seen if the teacher was naked.
Under police direction, the teen called Ragusa, who "admitted to the interaction" and also said she knew of the "repercussions for having engaged in the act," according to the sheriff's office.
Hillsborough investigators consulted with the state attorney's office and obtained a warrant for Ragusa's arrest. Ragusa, who appeared in court today, is being held at the Hillsborough County Jail without bail.
District Plagued by Sex Scandals
Ragusa was a teacher at Davidsen Middle School last year when the alleged affair took place. Davidsen is part of the Hillsborough County school district, which has come to know teacher-student sex scandals intimately — in large part thanks to Debra Lafave.
The bombshell blonde, arguably the highest-profile female teacher involved in a student sex scandal this century, also taught at a Hillsborough County middle school, the Greco Middle School. Lafave is currently serving three years of house arrest and seven years' probation after pleading guilty to having sex with a 14-year-old male student during a 2004 affair. She was 23 at the time.
Lafave violated her probation by discussing her personal life with a 17-year-old female co-worker at a restaurant, but she avoided prison when a Florida judge ruled in January that her violations were neither "willful nor substantial" enough to merit jail time.
B-Ball Coach Has Lesbian Affair
During the same period as Lafave's affair, Jaymee Wallace, a math teacher and girls basketball coach at Wharton High School in Hillsborough County, was having a consensual lesbian relationship with a female student basketball player. The two-year relationship began with a note from Wallace, then 28, to the student, 14: "I think you're attractive. Do you feel the same?" The affair lasted nearly two years, even through Wallace's marriage.
Wallace was arrested in November 2005. The student asked a Florida judge before Wallace's October 2007 sentencing to spare the woman jail time. The student's family, however, told the judge it wanted her to serve at least three years, which is exactly the prison sentence she received — plus three years of probation. Like Lafave, she also must be registered in a sex offender database.
In October 2007, Christina Lin Butler, a 33-year-old special education teacher at Hillsborough County's Middleton High School, was arrested after admitting to having a sexual relationship with a 16-year-old male student there.
Police conducting surveillance in Butler's neighborhood pulled over a Jeep Cherokee that was swerving and traced the vehicle to Butler. The driver told police that his "friend" Christina had lent him the car, according to ABC News' Tampa affiliate, and another passenger said the driver was in a relationship with Butler. Police investigated and arrested Butler after she admitted the sexual relationship to police.
Butler was booked on a single charge of lewd and lascivious conduct with a minor. She was released from the Hillsborough County Jail after posting a $7,500 bond, according to sheriff's office records.
Butler, a temporary employee, has been suspended without pay and was notified that she will not be offered a position next year, Linda Cobbe, a spokeswoman for the Hillsborough County School District, told ABC News.
In Jail, Suspended From School
Ragusa received a letter in jail Thursday night notifying her that she was suspended with pay, Cobbe said, adding that Hillsborough school superintendent MaryEllen Elia will ask the county's school board next week to revoke Ragusa's payment during the suspension.
Ragusa, who was also booked in Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office in July 2005 on a charge of driving under the influence, did not notify school officials of that previous arrest when she applied for a teaching position in August 2006.
"She apparently falsified information," Cobbe said, "She checked that she had no prior arrests."
The suspended teacher has a degree in political science from the University of South Florida, Cobbe said, and had nothing in her application file that would indicate that she was a threat to students. "There's no way to predict who is going to enter into an affair with a student," Cobbe said. "We certainly didn't know she had tendencies like she's done."
Hillsborough School District is the eighth largest school district in the country, Cobbe said, with more than 15,000 teachers, 236 schools and 192,000 students. A reputation for teachers preying on students is hardly what the school district wants, and Cobbe said that district officials do everything they can to vet employees.
When problems do arise, the school district does not hide. "We address it every time it happens," Cobbe said, describing ethics classes every teacher must take that address inappropriate relationships with students. "We don't stand for it."
Cobbe did acknowledge that the district, like all others in Florida, is required by the state to have a certain number of teachers per students, a mandate that means a lot of hiring in what until recently was a very fast-growing county.
"We have a few teachers who have been accused of crimes that are unconscionable," Cobbe said. "We have more than 15,000 teachers who are dedicated and trustworthy."