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The House Where They Live

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Left: Mickey's rules. Right: T, a new resident, charging his ankle bracelet.  

By the time Mickey arrived in 2005, Dodson was near the end of her life (she died in 2007, at age 79), and her daughter Bernadette Parks, then 59, was running the family’s real-estate empire. When Mickey turned up at the house Parks shared with her mother, he was desperate for a place to sleep. Parks didn’t ask questions about his past; he looked okay to her. “I put him in his room—a shitty room,” Parks says. “Went back a couple days later. Mickey had it painted, cleaned, fixed nice.” Mickey stayed for a while, then moved to another of her houses. This one, too, they both agree, was a disaster. “A crack house,” Mickey says. “It was terrible. Robbing each other. Fighting. You wouldn’t believe the stuff that was going on.” When Mickey asked if he could take over the management of his house, Parks welcomed the help.

Mickey wanted to live in a house where nobody drank or used drugs. But how could he create a sober house in a drug-infested neighborhood? The answer, he decided, was to fill it with men on parole, who have to submit to regular urine tests. “I decided I’d make it a parole house and let them watch ’em.”

He didn’t set out to fill the house with sex offenders specifically. It just worked out that way because there were so many sex offenders who needed housing. “Parole didn’t know where to put them,” he says. (It’s so hard to find housing that county officials started putting homeless sex offenders in trailers; the plan was to move them from one undisclosed location to another, but since May, the main trailer has been relegated to a parking lot at the county jail.) Word about Mickey’s house spread quickly. It was the best of few options.

His sex-offender house is just down the street from where Parks lives, and though her grandchildren are frequent visitors, she seems undisturbed by its proximity. “Once a person does their time and makes amends, they deserve another chance,” she says. “We shouldn’t be afraid of the people we know who did this—we should be afraid of the people who didn’t get help yet, didn’t get caught yet.”

The fact is that Mickey has made Parks’s life much easier since filling the house with sex offenders. Nearly all of his tenants are on parole and closely monitored. It’s the drunks and drug addicts in her other homes who cause her grief. About her sex-offender house she says, “It’s the best house, because of Mickey. Because he puts down rules. I have some houses that are just the pits because nobody cares.”

Over the past two years, Mickey and Parks have become close friends, spending hours together in Parks’s backyard, sharing cigarettes and neighborhood gossip—which roommates aren’t getting along, who’s smoking crack again, who’s going back to prison. Other residents of her homes sometimes refer to him as “Bernadette’s son,” a line that often gets a double take, since Parks is African-American and Mickey is white. “I think she adopted me without my knowing,” he says.

Every man gets his own room in Mickey’s house—$330 a month if you pay with cash or check, $309 if welfare is paying the rent. The smallest room is not much larger than a prison cell, while the largest, Room 9, is known as the “king’s room.” Or at least that’s what Mickey calls it, and, of course, that’s where he sleeps.

Larry, Stephen, and Hop live at one end of the house. They’re all middle-aged, their sex crimes committed more than twenty years ago. Larry and Stephen are the only two African-American sex offenders in the house, and they’ve formed the beginnings of a friendship. Physically, neither one seems particularly threatening: Larry is a small man at five-foot-five and 110 pounds; Stephen’s most noticeable feature is the absence of his front teeth. “Me and the windshield and the steering wheel had a couple misunderstandings,” he explains. Larry, now 51, cannot read or write, and his illiteracy has made him sympathetic to some of his housemates—even though, as Stephen whispers to me, “he’s a child molester.” Stephen tries to keep tabs on Larry and make sure he meets his curfew, and when no one else is looking, Mickey reads Larry’s mail to him. The housemates know very little about his crime; Larry never talks about it.

Stephen, however, is more forthcoming about his past. His victim, he says, was an ex-girlfriend—he was angry with her because four years earlier she’d dumped him. “I was intoxicated,” he says. “I pushed myself on her, did what I wanted, and that was that. That was the only way, in my mind, y’know, to get even.” He hasn’t been convicted of a sex crime since, though the former heroin addict did make two more trips to prison—in the nineties for attempted robbery, and more recently for selling drugs.


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