By Kyle Swenson
"I really don't feel like I live the life of a typical sex offender," [name withheld] said on a recent evening on the back patio of his house in Lake Worth.
With his small frame crumbled in a deck chain, the 31-year-old hispanic guy puffs on an electronic cigarette while his 3-year-old son wobbles about the lawn. Upbeat and chatty, he's outlining his big plans for the backyard. "And you see over there," he says gesturing beyond a greenhouse to the tall cement wall blocking the lot from the train tracks. "We're going to put some couches right there and have a movie projector against the wall."
In truth, [name withheld] doesn't whether he'll be at his dream house in two weeks. When he was 18, [name withheld] had consensual sex with a girl he met at the beach. She had told him she was 17, but was actually 15. He was arrested and charged with lewd or lascivious battery. Eventually, [name withheld] accepted a withhold of adjudication, a legal option that technically left him without a felonious record but included three years of probation. Tagged to that stint was placement on the sex offender registry.
"If I was any other criminal my sentence would be done," [name withheld] says. "Say you're a prospective employer, and you're looking at my background, this doesn't come up at all on a background check. But if you do a Google search of my name, you'll see me on the registry."
It got worse. A 2007 Florida law allowed offenders in statutory cases like [name withheld]'s - known as Romeos - to petition off the registry. [name withheld] met all the criteria, except to save money he went for a pyscho-sexual evaluation from a different therapist than the one chosen by the court. A judge denied his request. According to the law, a Romeo only has one shot at escape.
Despite the label, [name withheld] has been able make a good living working small-time finance jobs, enough to move his family recently into the large Lake Worth ranch home. But after [name withheld] filed his new address for the registry, the phone call came from local police: his new home was 1,500 feet from a bus stop, a violation of Lake Worth's ordinance.
"I don't even know where the bus stop is," he says.
This week, check back with New Times for a longer, comprehensive look at the sex offender registry -- its effectiveness, its controversial logic, and the people fighting to both reform and keep the registry in place.