"I really don't feel like I live the life of a typical sex offender," Damian Garcia said on a recent evening on the back patio of his house in Lake Worth.
With his small frame crumbled in a deck chain, the 31-year-old hispanic guy puffs on an electronic cigarette while his 3-year-old son wobbles about the lawn. Upbeat and chatty, he's outlining his big plans for the backyard. "And you see over there," he says gesturing beyond a greenhouse to the tall cement wall blocking the lot from the train tracks. "We're going to put some couches right there and have a movie projector against the wall."
In truth, Garcia doesn't whether he'll be at his dream house in two weeks. When he was 18, Garcia had consensual sex with a girl he met at the beach. She had told him she was 17, but was actually 15. He was arrested and charged with lewd or lascivious battery. Eventually, Garcia accepted a withhold of adjudication, a legal option that technically left him without a felonious record but included three years of probation. Tagged to that stint was placement on the sex offender registry.
"If I was any other criminal my sentence would be done," Garcia says. "Say you're a prospective employer, and you're looking at my background, this doesn't come up at all on a background check. But if you do a Google search of my name, you'll see me on the registry."
It got worse. A 2007 Florida law allowed offenders in statutory cases like Garcia's - known as Romeos - to petition off the registry. Garcia met all the criteria, except to save money he went for a pyscho-sexual evaluation from a different therapist than the one chosen by the court. A judge denied his request. According to the law, a Romeo only has one shot at escape.
Despite the label, Garcia has been able make a good living working small-time finance jobs, enough to move his family recently into the large Lake Worth ranch home. But after Garcia filed his new address for the registry, the phone call came from local police: his new home was 1,500 feet from a bus stop, a violation of Lake Worth's ordinance.
"I don't even know where the bus stop is," he says.
This week, check back with New Times for a longer, comprehensive look at the sex offender registry -- its effectiveness, its controversial logic, and the people fighting to both reform and keep the registry in place.