Hop is the only one in the house who loudly insists he didn’t commit the crime for which he was convicted. “I’m an innocent man,” he says. “I no longer care if anyone believes me, to tell you the truth. My mother believed me. My family believes me.” He was arrested at age 17 for sodomizing a young girl and he spent most of his adult life locked up. He served seventeen years in state prison, did five years on parole, got sent back to prison after he stopped taking his psychiatric meds, and then wound up confined in the Manhattan Psychiatric Center for two years. More than most of the men here, he struggles with basic living skills, like remembering to take his pills; bottles of Lipitor sit atop the bureau in his bedroom, untouched. Some days he spends hours at a time alone in his room with the door closed.
This part of the house is rounded out by one other sex offender—a 40-year-old man who was arrested after an instant-message exchange with someone he thought was a 15-year-old boy but who turned out to be a cop—and two housemates who are not sex offenders: a security guard and a cook at Checkers. When asked what he thinks of his roommates, the Checkers cook has no complaints. “They don’t make no noise; they keep quiet,” he says.
Mickey shares his end of the house with John and Bill. John, 58, has been here since 2004, longer than any other sex offender. A former alcoholic and cocaine addict, he was convicted of sodomy in 1996 and spent eight years in prison. Now he’s the house success story, with a full-time job, a relationship with his kids, a shot at a normal life. He works as a forklift operator and sends $200 a week, or 40 percent of his take-home pay, to his daughter in college. A photo of her and his two high-school-age sons sits atop the microwave in his room. “If I didn’t have my kids, I’d be living in a garden apartment,” he says. “The only reason I’m here is because it economically works for me.”
The youngest person in the house is 39-year-old Bill. Before his arrest, he was married, earned $45,000 a year at a technology company, and belonged to an Evangelical church. Then, in 1999, his wife accused him of molesting their 2-year-old daughter. According to Bill’s therapist, Bill was angry at his wife, and the abuse was driven by a desire to get back at her. He spent six years in prison. The crime is a topic Bill doesn’t talk about much; when pressed, he discusses it in oblique terms. “You look back in your past, and there’s always 100 different things you could’ve done differently or better,” he says. “I was very passive-aggressive.”
With wire glasses, salt-and-pepper hair, and a slight paunch, Bill has the look of a computer nerd. And, indeed, there’s enough secondhand computer equipment in his room to power a small company: nineteen PCs, two Macs, and three printers. Though Bill’s crime did not involve the Internet, his parole officer forbade his having Internet access, something Bill finds frustrating. Even so, he spends hours in front of the computer, playing video games.
Though he left prison in early 2006, Bill has yet to find a full-time job. He interviewed for a manager position at Wal-Mart (dressing up in a suit for the occasion) and his prospects had seemed promising—until someone ran a background check. More recently, he secured a part-time gig at a store selling cell phones, but when he learned he’d have access to customers’ Social Security numbers, he had to quit.
“He got into a real slump over the job situation,” Mickey says. “When I’d come home, he’d just sit in his room and wouldn’t talk.” To pull Bill out of his depression, Mickey appointed him his deputy, giving him the title “house manager.” Without a full-time job, Bill has plenty of time on his hands, and he’s embraced his role. Evidence of his excess energy is all over the house. Every week or two, he rewrites the lists of rules that are posted everywhere. Each bedroom door features an elaborate color sign with the room number, tenant’s name, and, in most cases, a cartoon character. For Mickey’s door, he made a poster that reads DO NOT DISTURB MICKEY—HE’S DISTURBED ENOUGH ALREADY.
When the two men first met, Bill was at Parks’s house, waiting to see if he could get a room. “He was just sitting there, shaking like a leaf, because he’s never been in an area like this, and he didn’t know what was going on,” Mickey says. Bill didn’t look like a troublemaker, so Mickey told Parks, “I’ll take him.” Every night, Mickey cooks dinner for Bill and confides in him about his day; Bill, in turn, helps keep Mickey calm and sober. On the weekends, they run errands together—visiting the laundromat, shopping at the discount store with food stamps. Though they make an unlikely pair, Mickey refers to Bill as his best friend.