Last week, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone announced that all the residents of the two sex offender trailers in Southampton town were moved out last Friday and sometime soon, the trailers themselves will be decommissioned and taken away. All this is as the result of a new bill recently passed by the County, which requires the closing of the trailers and stiffer penalties applied in the county to sex offenders.
This has been a long time coming. These homeless sex offender trailers were set up in Southampton in 2007 without any advance warning to the local citizenry. One is in Riverside, next to the County Jail. The other is in Westhampton, near Gabreski Airport. Neither is within 1,000 feet of a school or day-care center.
The trailers were installed because of the failure of a county plan to find new housing for homeless sex offenders by providing them $90 daily for motel stays and because the county was not allowed to differentiate the care offered to homeless people based on whether they were sex offenders or not. At capacity, 40 sex offenders lived in these trailers.
When they were installed, it was expected the sex offender trailers would only be needed temporarily until a new plan could be made for the offenders. But temporary stretched out into six years.
After Bellone’s announcement, local County Legislator Jay Schneiderman, congratulated the County Executive on making this happen and spoke kindly about him at a press conference. It was pointed out that Bellone’s predecessor Steve Levy had frequently agreed that something would have to be done, but never got around to it.
With all the residents moved out last Friday, 26 between the two locations, there only remains for the trailers themselves to be removed and taken elsewhere. At this juncture, however, a group has declared it wants to raise money to save the trailers and let tourists and other visitors come and experience an educational “walk through” museum. The group is called “Save Our Sex Offender Trailers,” or SOSOT. And it’s headed up by Otto Von Hagen of East Quogue.
“The Hamptons has a great heritage,” he told us in an interview on Wednesday. “And that includes the Sex Trailers. These are the only sex offender trailers in the entire state. There are no other. We celebrate with our old Saltbox pre-revolutionary homes in Montauk at Second House, East Hampton at Home Sweet Home and in Southampton at the Halsey House. We celebrate our war defenses at Camp Hero in Montauk, which is now a walk through museum. And we have the old jailhouse on the grounds of the Bridgehampton Historical Society.
“Think of the Trailer Museum as the eastern version of Alcatraz. It was in use once. It served its purpose. And it shall not be forgotten.”
Von Hagen, whose own heritage goes back to the Dutch settlement of New Amsterdam in the 1630s, says that he and his group have asked County Executive Bellone to hold off moving the sex trailers so that SOSOT can raise the money to save them.
“I haven’t heard back from him,” Von Hagen said, “so it would seem we now have a month or more to make the effort.”
As Von Hagen tells it, the Sex Offender Trailers have a story to tell about the first part of the 21st century just as, say, the Pollock-Krasner House in East Hampton has a story to tell about the last half of the 20th century in this place.
“You walk through these places, you learn things,” Von Hagen says. “This is what’s so important about the Sex Offender Trailers. Let this be a lesson for us.”
Hagen envisions each trailer restored to just how it was during itsyears of use. Visitors will see the cots these people slept on, the desks they sat at, the TVs they watched, the TV aerial on the roof (since there was no cable), the calendars on which they marked off the days, the surveillance cameras that kept the authorities alerted to their whereabouts.
“This is nothing to be ashamed of,” he said. “In many ways, the trailers were a good thing. We knew where the sex offenders were. Now, who knows? We had them under surveillance. Sex tent camps and trailer camps are everywhere around the country now, and so if the Hamptons can do it, others can, too. At least these sex offenders were in the Hamptons. That’s something. And at least they didn’t have to walk around with the letter ‘S’ on their clothes as Hester Prynne did in Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter with that letter ‘A’ she wore for being an adulteress.”
Von Hagen says that his group has met twice since the Sex Offender Trailers closed. About a hundred people attended. At the first meeting, a date was set for a fundraiser for SOSOT. It is going to be on the lawn of a private oceanfront mansion under a big white tent on Saturday evening the first week after July 4. There will be a band, a catered dinner, an emcee who will auction various valuable things off—they are hoping to get Jon Stewart or Jerry Seinfeld—and goodie bags for those who pay the $5,000 entry fee. It’s a great cause. And it’s tax-deductable.
At the second meeting, discussions were held about whether or not the guides through the Sex Offender Trailers should be former residents of the trailers. The man who proposed this said he’d been told that the former inmates of the island prison called Robin Island off Capetown, where Nelson Mandela was incarcerated, act as tour guides. He’s also been told that the same holds true at Alcatraz. In any case, former sex offenders need jobs just like anybody else.
The next meeting will take place on Wednesday, and a discussion will take place about possibly having not only the sex trailer in Westhampton be available for tours, but also two other facilities back there in the woods behind the airport—the former Atlas Guided Nuclear Missile silos that at one time held rockets aimed at the Soviet Union, and a pistol and rifle range that someone said was back there. It would be a “three for one” museum.
Also discussed at the meeting will be the proposed flag. It’s been knitted by Mrs. Von Hagen. It’s red and white and consists of a trailer with a lightning bolt over it and the letters SOSOT under it. This flag will be flown on the nearby Riverhead-Westhampton Road at the driveway entrance to the Museum when the time comes.
Von Hagen said he knew how hard it must have been to live back there.
“These people had to live through the sounds of gunfire from the firing range and the roar of the missiles from the Atlas silos. This was quite a time,” Von Hagen says. “But they deserved it.”