March 25, 2009

Gender twist on "post-apocalpytic trolls"

I've written previously about troll colonies. They are the exiled sex offenders living under bridges, including most famously the Julia Tuttle Causeway in Florida. Now, for perhaps the first time, a woman has been forced to join their ranks. Here is what one columnist had to say about this sad, and senseless, development in a world gone mad:

Woman joins sex-offender group
Guest essay by Fred Grimm, Miami Herald*

It's as if Voncel Johnson has been thrust into a bizarre social experiment.

Forcing so many men to live like post-apocalyptic trolls beneath a bridge in the middle of Biscayne Bay wasn't quite mad enough. Now they've added a woman.

For two years, a colony of convicted sex offenders under the Julia Tuttle Causeway has lived in a public health travesty, without water or toilets or electrical service. They sleep in tents, shacks, the back seats of cars in the last realistic address in metropolitan Miami unaffected by city and county sex-offender residency laws.

The numbers have been growing steadily as more convicted sex offenders emerge from prison and are consigned to finish out their wretched lives under a bridge.

he population was up to 52 men Monday. And Voncel Johnson.

Gender equity

In a peculiar nod to gender equity, the Florida Department of Corrections informed her last week that she too had only one residency option in Miami-Dade County -- the Tuttle. ''They just give me a blanket and a pillow and sent me . . . here?'' she asked, talking over the incessant thump-thump-thump of the freeway traffic overhead. "I just broke down.''

A community backward enough to create a subterranean de-facto prison camp of male sex offenders thrusts a single woman into the mix -- just to see what happens.

t's an ironic setting for Voncel Johnson. The 43-year-old woman, who grew up in poverty and neglect in the Brownsville section of Miami, told me she was sexually molested at age 6 and gang-raped at 16. ''I have a hard time trusting men,'' she said.

In 2004, Johnson pleaded guilty to a charge of lewd and lascivious exhibition (without physical contact) with a minor. She claimed Monday the charge was unfounded but at the time a plea offer with one year probation and no prison time seemed prudent. Except she twice failed to meet sex-offender registration requirements. Her probation was revoked. She did 10 months at Broward Correctional Institute.

Common refrain

She repeated a common refrain -- sometimes delusional -- among the bridge outcasts. "I never would have done that plea deal if I'd known they'd send me here. I could've fought those charges.''

But offender laws leave the state Department of Corrections no options for a sex offender. Voncel Johnson's parole officer did find her a motel room for three days last week. And she was offered a slot in a residential offender program in another county. But Johnson refused to leave Miami. "All my family lives here. I've never been any place but Miami.''

It was probably a foolish decision, but Johnson harbors some vague notion about gutting it out beneath the Tuttle until her parole ends May 5. ''Then I can find some place to live.'' She seems unable to grasp that residency restrictions are forever.

eanwhile, the men beneath the Tuttle gave her a battered old camper trailer. ''We watch out for her,'' insisted Juan Carlos Martin, who has been under the bridge so long that the address on his driver's license reads ''Julia Tuttle Causeway Bridge.'' He said it was as if city, county and state officials purposely cram more and more men into an unliveable, hopeless, crowded space, knowing that eventually something awful might happen. And now they add a woman.

artin said, "They need to get her out of here.''

*From today's Miami Herald, posted with the written permission of columnist Fred Grimm. More columns by Fred Grimm are

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Anonymous said...

Well do you want her living next door to your child? I don't. She wants to be near her family, send her away WITH her family to the middle of a desert somewhere. It seems she was given plenty of options but made the choice to stay where she is. Well, stay there then. She gave up her rights and no one put a gun to her head. I only feel sorry for her victim. She can rot in hell..

x684867 said...

Many people say sex offenders cannot be rehabilitated. However, the Texas State Auditor in 2007 released a report showing that sex offenders who completed the Texas Sex Offender Treatment Program (SOTP) were 61% LESS LIKELY to commit a new crime. That seems to show promise.

After all, in 2002, the US Dept. of Justice reported that only 5% of sex offenders released in 1994 returned to prison for a new sex crime.

Yet we spend millions on registration of more than 650,000 sex offenders in the US based on information available in the early 1990’s when research on sex offenders was poorly funded–if it was even considered.

Treatment works. The research shows this.


“An Audit Report on Selected Rehabilitation Programs at the Department of Criminal Justice.” Texas State Auditor. March 2007. Report No. 07-026. Retrieved Oct 20, 2009.

US Dept of Justice Report on Sex Offender Recidivism