A Circle of Tough Love

How one Mennonite organization launched a radical -- and successful -- approach to helping sex offenders

| July / August 2005

Wray Budreo is lying in bed in his bachelor apartment, a dingy 180-square-foot box in Toronto. His body is twisted, knees pointing to the wall. He weighs about 90 pounds, and his health problems include severe osteoporosis, the result of taking Lupron, a drug that eradicated his sex drive, for years. He rarely has visitors or ventures out. At 60, he many not live much longer. It's a bleak existence, but things were even worse 10 years ago.

In 1994 Budreo was released from jail after serving a six-year sentence for three counts of sexual assault. It was not his first incarceration. Having committed more than 26 sex crimes against young boys over 30 years, he had been in and out of prison most of his life.

Surrounded by noose-wielding demonstrators, he was smuggled out of Kingston Penitentiary in the trunk of a car. He knew no one and had no idea how to go about the practical business of living. He tried to settle in Peterborough, but violent protests forced him to move to Toronto. At the time, Correctional Service Canada (CSC) said there was a 100 percent likelihood that he would harm another child, but there was little they could do about it -- Budreo had served his full term.

Ten years later, Budreo remains a free man, largely because of people like Eileen Henderson, project manager of the Ontario branch of Circles of Support and Accountability. Part support network, part neighborhood watch, Circles is a fledgling Mennonite organization that has helped Budreo and other sex offenders turn their lives around.

Henderson was hired in 2000 for her extensive background in working with people on the fringes of society: ex-cons, inner-city families, street kids. It didn't hurt that the 52-year-old, who works up to 70 hours a week, was willing to do the job for a small stipend ('Let's just say I put in a lot of volunteer time,' she says).

On the Friday morning before a holiday weekend, Henderson is on the phone in her Toronto-area office, trying to find a residential detox program that will accept a sex offender; few will. She is pulling out all the stops, considering programs as far away as Vancouver. One of her charges, a man in his mid-40s, was found in a drunken stupor the previous night and if, by 2:00 p.m., she can show there's hope that he will be accepted somewhere, the judge might give him another chance.

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