I'm going to go out on a limb here and guess the following spin by the Book Ends is the new soft sell to Florida lawmakers in their continued joint push for an increase in statewide residency restrictions from the present 1000 to 1750 feet from where children congregate.
Lauren Book walks among grimy tents, wooden shanties, cardboard boxes, rusty cars and piles of garbage. On this day, it's quiet under the Julia Tuttle Causeway, except for the deafening drone of cars and trucks barreling over the bridge above.
What is remarkable about Book's visits to this world of outcasts is that for six years, starting when she was 11, she was a victim of sexual abuse. She later embarked on a legislative crusade against sex offenders, lobbying the state Legislature with her father, Ron Book, one of Florida's most powerful lobbyists, to enact stricter laws against convicted molesters.
The legal frenzy prompted local communities to enact more restrictive laws, creating an international public embarrassment over the bridge's rodent-infested squalor in the shadow of Miami Beach. At one point it was home to almost 100 sex offenders.
Lauren Book, 24, now realizes that forcing predators to live in inhumane conditions will not protect children; in fact, she fears it may do the opposite.
"It's a terrible situation under there, it is awful," she admits. "I don't think them living under a bridge or absconding keeps children safe. I don't want them so desperate that they go out and find a child."
The traumatic experience left the Book family frustrated with the state's failure to protect children by better monitoring sex offenders.
The state already had banned sex offenders and predators from living within 1,000 feet of areas where children congregate, like schools and playgrounds. But the dynamic duo -- a heavyweight lobbyist and his petite young daughter with a harrowing story of abuse -- helped persuade politicians across South Florida to set stricter perimeters of 2,500 feet.
The Books now admit that the restrictive boundaries had unintended consequences: it banished many predators from living in almost every city and town.
'There are places'
Ron Book, however, is unapologetic, and still believes molesters should be prohibited from living 1,750 to 2,500 feet of where children play.
"Residency restrictions do work," says Ron Book, who, as executive director of the Miami-Dade Homeless Trust, has helped find homes for about half the people under the bridge. "If you look, there are places for them to live."
The first time Lauren Book visited the encampment under the bridge it was in a torrential downpour. She remembers driving away with her windows down and the rain falling.
"You can't really understand what it's like unless you go there. You can't capture it in words or pictures. Being there, hearing it, seeing it, smelling it -- it's all part of understanding the situation under the Julia Tuttle Causeway."
At the time, she was a member of a Broward County task force examining residency restrictions for sex offenders and she believed she needed to see the conditions to be more knowledgeable about the issue.
She concedes that the visit was difficult.
"I can tell them, 'I really don't condone anything you've done . . . but I don't think you should be living under a bridge.' ''
But make no mistake: Lauren Book has no sympathy for sexual predators and offenders, especially those who argue that they served their time, and therefore, they should not have to live a life sentence in exile.
"I say to them, 'Well, you're damn right you're serving a life sentence -- and so am I,' '' she said, her eyes blazing.
Read the entire story over at the Sun Sentinel (10/2/09).