A Circle of Tough Love

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.

She sips coffee but jokes that today she’d like something
stronger. ‘These things always happen around the holidays,’ she
sighs. ‘It’s a hard time of year for our guys.’ Her ‘guys’ number
about 50. She also has four part-time staffers and 200 volunteers,
half the number she needs.

Circles was started in 1994 by Harry Nigh, a Mennonite pastor.
He had come to know Charlie Taylor, a developmentally delayed
pedophile, and when Taylor was about to be released from prison, a
CSC psychologist asked Nigh if he could help the man, who had no
support. The result was the first ‘circle,’ consisting of Taylor,
Nigh, and a small group of church volunteers. They assisted Taylor
with housing and health care, and they met with police, media, and
angry community members to let them know he was receiving help.
They stopped in for social visits and made themselves available for
phone calls around the clock. Once a week, they met formally to
solve problems, celebrate small victories (one month out, moving
into his own place, birthdays), and, most important, to hold Taylor
accountable for any risky behavior he might be considering, such as
moving in with people who would be a negative influence or deciding
if he could handle walking near a school. They were even prepared
to call police, if necessary. Six months later, a second group came
together around another high-profile offender — Wray Budreo.

Today, 100 circles across Canada are run by 20 organizations.
The concept is being emulated in Ireland, the Netherlands, the
United States, and the United Kingdom. The goal is to prevent
anyone else from being victimized, and it seems to be working. A
2004 study done by Robin Wilson, a CSC psychologist, showed that
high-risk offenders who have the support of a circle are up to 70
percent less likely to offend again (the recidivism rate for sex
offenders is 17 percent). It’s a startling achievement that is
based on showing love and support for society’s most loathed

In January, Henderson reports that Budreo’s health is declining.
His blood pressure has been dangerously low, causing a bad fall
that put him in the hospital. He rests in bed quietly. Nothing he
does can ever erase the harm he has caused. Thanks to Henderson and
Circles, though, he’s found something close to peace.

Reprinted from Saturday Night (April 2005).
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