"Burn that shit!"

Patrick Wiese, a skinny, sunbaked 47-year-old with a thick moustache and no teeth, is drinking a Miller High Life outside his tent on an early-May afternoon. The old man he's talking to, Hector Fernandez, sits shirtless on a battered stool, fanning himself with a piece of cardboard. Fernandez, a sixtysomething who likes to wear socks with his sandals, has taken on the role of maintenance man. Wiese gestures at the trash heap on the beach.

"Burn that shit!" he says again.

In the colony at the Julia Tuttle, Wiese is something of a den mother. He works—at a sub shop a few miles west—and when the generator "took a shit" a while back, he says, he shelled out $118 to fix it so the guys on parole could keep their monitoring devices charged.

"The only reason I do all this—it ain't for me," he says, crouched on a piling. "I had a friend tell me, 'You know what? You're there for a reason.' I thought about that for a few days. And then the generator broke down, and lo and behold, I was there for a reason." Almost three years ago, Wiese was arrested for child molestation after, he says, "letting" his 9-year-old stepdaughter touch him through his shorts. He spent 18 months in jail and has eight years of probation left to serve. (Wiese is currently back in jail, pending a court date, for not reporting to his parole officer.)

The shack where a man nicknamed El Viejo—at 83, he's the oldest resident of the camp—lives is at the base of the bridge's embankment. Eight months ago, having been sentenced to 10 months' probation after being convicted of child molestation, he couldn't make it up the hill, so Wiese and Martin hammered together a cube for him down there and covered it in Coors Light banners to keep the wind out.

Wiese and Fernandez bullshit about bridge life for a couple of hours until around sundown, when fellow bridge-dwellers begin returning from work in their cars. Parolees have a 10 p.m.-to-6 a.m. curfew. Wiese gives up on his maintenance man and squirts gasoline on the trash heap. The guys gather around, cracking open beers and watching the trash burn. Around midnight, Roberto (not his real name), a 53-year-old architect and interior designer with white hair and wire-rim glasses, wanders off alone with his Solo cup of Heineken.

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"I used to live somewhere there," he says, looking out at the Miami skyline. "That's the sad thing." Seven years ago, Roberto went to jail for having sex with his 13-year-old daughter—a crime he describes only as "horrible." He wears two oversize T-shirts to conceal his GPS box and sleeps in the cab of his white pickup truck every night.