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Oklahoma law change will put 130 sex offenders out of ministry-run trailer park

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 in Oklahoma.
by Juliana Keeping Modified: February 12, 2012 at 12:15 pm •  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.

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.

Law's consequences

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.

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by Juliana Keeping
Enterprise Reporter
Juliana Keeping is on the enterprise reporting team for The Oklahoman and Keeping joined the staff of The Oklahoman in 2012. Prior to that time, she worked in the Chicago media at the SouthtownStar, winning a Peter Lisagor Award...
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