Free-Range Kids

Sex Offender on Oxygen Forced to Move into Tent in Woods Because of Insane Residency Restrictions

The man had no idea there was a home daycare center within 1,000 feet of his new house.


Lila Folster

Steven Larry Folster has severe respiratory problems and is supposed to spend eight hours a day on oxygen. Unfortunately, he has just been forced to move into a tent in the woods, in the middle of winter in South Carolina. He is only allowed to be at home for 6 hours a day, max, or he could be arrested.

Almost 30 years ago, Folster was convicted of molesting his nephew. That crime that sent him to prison for nearly 10 years.

Now he is middle-aged and married. The couple is very poor. Recently, though, the Folsters found a house that fit their requirements. It was small enough for them to be able to afford and was not near any child gathering place—or so they thought.

They were allowed to register their new address on September 1 and proceeded to move in. But then, lo and behold, once they'd settled in they were informed they can't actually live there—there's a daycare center (perhaps in a home, it's not visible) 800 feet from them. Local law says registrants must live at least 1000 feet from any place children gather.

Lila Folster, Steven's wife, sent me the following letter:

Dear Free-Range Kids: My husband, who is very sick, is being given 30 days to move out of our home because of a daycare 862 feet from us.

We were told by the registration office that it was a state law and there was nothing they could do about it…

The woman that is in charge of the registration department swears we didn't notify her of the address change prior to moving in. I have documented proof that we DID! We would never have continued to move into a house where we knew there were restrictions against us being there….

As you can imagine we are both in shock. We are on a fixed income, so we were barely able to afford this move, let alone turn around and try to move again.

My husband will be moving into a tent in the woods tomorrow until we can figure out what else to do so that he can avoid being arrested in the meantime.

I'm not sure that a neighborhood is really any safer with a man living in the woods. But that's exactly what happened next. Steven moved into a tent.

Sandi Rozek, communications director for the group Reform Sex Offender Laws, has been in touch with the family and reports on the organization's website that the only reason Steven had to move out of his house was that the neighbors complained. Since the house is only 130 feet too close to the daycare center, the police said they would have let it go.

But now, the police told them:

If there are any complaints there, at the tent, he [Steven] will be required to move again.

The same officer told the family that Steven is only allowed in his real home 6 hours a day… even though he is supposed to spend 8 hours a day on his oxygen machine, plus 4 nebulizer treatments each day. Without this, he could die.

And yet, if Steven overstays his 6 hours and someone complains, he could be sent back to prison.

This past week, there was rain. The tent leaked. Several nights the temperature has dropped into the 30s. Steve is 6'6 and now weighs under 150 pounds. As RSOL reports:

Two hours of oxygen on the portable tanks is far, far short of what he should be getting, but that requires his equipment and electricity, and his tent has neither.

One neighbor who didn't complain about Steven was kind enough to offer him a bigger tent, at least.

It's time to start asking local lawmakers why we have these arcane residency restrictions. The fact that they have not been shown to make children any safer doesn't seem to matter. It's a moral quarantine more than a real crimestopper. As Jill Levenson at Barry University in Miami, Florida, has noted:

…sexual recidivists do not appear to live closer to schools or parks than non-recidivists, suggesting that residential proximity to such venues is not a contributing factor to re-offending. Furthermore, sex offenders rarely prey on young children in or near parks, libraries or schools and sexually motivated abductions of children are very rare events. Laws restricting where sex offenders live or work will do little to prevent the most common circumstances in which children are sexually abused, through positions of authority and familiarity.

In other words, the tools we're using to make kids safer don't actually do anything of the sort. But they do make guys on oxygen move into tents, decades after they finished paying their debt to society.