Review by Justin Goodman
At the Jimmy Ryce Center in Florida, sex offenders are held for “long-term control, care and treatment.” What this means is sex offenders–which rank from tier III rapists to tier I possessors of child porn–undergo a PPG (Penile Plethysmograph), where they have electrodes attached to their penis and are shown child porn to measure if they still have deviant desires. This technique is inadmissible in court and doubted by members of the scientific community as valid. It may even evoke the famous scene from A Clockwork Orange for some: Alex, a violence-loving youth imprisoned for murder, is used to test a new form of aversion therapy where doctors inject him with a nauseating chemical while forcing him to watch violent videos. Few express sympathy for the experience of such criminals, while many wish to actively inflict harm on them; the humiliation and horror that these people feel undergoing these procedures, however, are fully felt, not just in A Clockwork Orange when his humanity reveals itself just as he’s being deprived of it, but in Pervert Park, a new documentary centered on a Florida community of sex offenders trying to show their humanity to a world which actively hates their very existence.
The titular park is Florida Justice Transitions, a not-so-catchy name for its not-so-catchy residents, which houses 120 registered sex offenders. To call it a Pervert Park is dismissive and vague; the way people tend to view sex offenders, without differentiation, and explicit animosity. What the directors (Lasse and Frida Barkfors) have created is, in essence, an extended meet and greet: names on display, stories fully told. Despite the absurd range of the spectrum–from Patrick Naughton, a self-confessed child rapist who readily accepts monitoring and counseling, to Jamie Turner, a Masters-holding youth who says he was entrapped by the FBI during a sting operation–it’s hard to not appreciate that the 4 who confess their crimes and express their guilt are, in their own capacity, victims. Bill Fuery, a resident and security guard of sorts for the facility, explains at one point how a man drove up to him with a gun drawn threatening to shoot him if he didn’t stay away from his daughters. Bill didn’t even know who they were. As it turns out, they walked by every morning (as many people do) on their way to school when Bill was figuring his day out. In a reversal, the father redeems himself by befriending Bill.
Perhaps the most striking story is Tracy Hutchinson’s, though. Raped by her father, who told her she was “daddy’s princess” and other such things, she grew up a mixture of traumatized and confused. At her grandmother’s hours, she has a kid by another man, and is forced to leave because of their rigorous religious standards. The man leaves her. Under the vulturous wings of alcoholism and depression, she’s convinced by a man who says he’ll take care of them–financially and emotionally–if her 9 year old child consents to having sex with her and lets him watch. She breaks, like Bill had not twenty minutes ago, and the camera sits coldly watching her for several minutes. That story ends with her son telling his school what happened, her finding out, and her saying, she makes special note, how proud she was of him for telling. A new story awaits as the son, during the shooting of the film, forgave her and decided he wanted to begin communication again. With any hope, a similar transformation awaits the hard-hearted viewer at the end of Pervert Park.
Nancy Morais, the woman who founded Justice Florida Transitions after her son was arrested and registered, explains at the end of the film that these people live “never to be forgiven.” This is undeniable. Society has ousted them, the law has abandoned them, the ones who recognize their errors find no support, and they have no active way to fight for themselves anywhere. While there are many critiques of America that have to be addressed, the Barkfors have tried to lighten the underbelly of America. Not merely the people who live in the seedier regions of the law, but those who are cast from the light because of crimes they admit to; who would confess if, at the end of their honesty, they faced a PPG? Today we live in the film version of A Clockwork Orange, where the imagination is caught in a cycle of violence that seems inescapably intertwined with those acting it out. But Anthony Burgess’ book, the source material for the film, ended on a lighter note. Not as Alex being stuck in a loop of aggression, but in growing into a simulacrum of adulthood. Not entirely innocent, but allowed to walk in a crowd and see those who will carry on the mantle of pariah. Able to say, they too, can change.