For their own good: a St. Petersburg Times special report on child abuse
at the Florida School for Boys
By Ben Montgomery and Waveney Ann Moore, Times Staff Writers
In Print: Sunday, April 19, 2009
MARIANNA - The men remember the same things: blood on the walls, bits of
lip or tongue on the pillow, the smell of urine and whiskey, the way the
bed springs sang with each blow. The way they cried out for Jesus or mama.
The grinding of the old fan that muffled their cries. The one-armed man who
swung the strap.
They remember walking into the dark little building on the campus of the
Florida School for Boys, in bare feet and white pajamas, afraid they'd
never walk out.
For 109 years, this is where Florida has sent bad boys. Boys have been sent
here for rape or assault, yes, but also for skipping school or smoking
cigarettes or running hard from broken homes. Some were tough, some
confused and afraid; all were treading through their formative years in the
custody of the state. They were as young as 5, as old as 20, and they
needed to be reformed.
It was for their own good.
Now come the men with nightmares and scars on their backsides, carrying 50
years of wreckage - ruined marriages and prison time and meanness and
smoldering anger. Now comes a state investigation into unmarked graves, a
lawsuit against a dying old man. Now come the questions: How could this
happen? What should be done?
Those questions have been asked again and again about the reform school at
Marianna, where, for more than a century, boys went in damaged and came out
In the late 1950s, a 13-year-old kid who slicked back his long hair like
Elvis stood in front of a judge in Tampa. A car had been stolen from the
neighborhood. Someone said they saw Willy Haynes driving it.
Willy didn't know how to drive, but the judge didn't know that. Here was a
boy who grew up in a little house off Columbus Avenue, in Six Mile Creek, a
scrappy neighborhood on Tampa's eastern edge, where a poor kid learned
early how to protect himself. When the judge warned the boy to behave or
he'd be sent to reform school in Marianna, Willy surprised the court.
Why can't I go now?
He had heard the Florida School for Boys had a band and a football team and
maybe even Boy Scouts, and it didn't cost a penny to participate. He kissed
his mother goodbye at the courthouse and left Tampa in the back of a state
cruiser. Big, beautiful, oblivious Florida blurred by outside the window.
This was before the interstates sliced through the state, and they took
Highway 41 north and connected with U.S. 19, then transferred to Highway 90
west, through Tallahassee, to the tiny panhandle town of Marianna.
Willy wasn't scared as the state car pulled onto the gravel road that led
to the state's only boys' juvenile reformatory, the Florida School for
No fences. Manicured lawns. Tall pines and stately buildings. It looked
like college. It had to be better than home.
Inside, he signed a ledger.
William Haynes Jr.
April 11, 1958.
The books were shelved in rows, and each was filled with names of hundreds
of boys from across Florida. Some were man-sized boys with criminal
records. Others were retarded, or so young they didn't have hair under
A boy escorted Willy Haynes to Tyler Cottage and told him to keep his
belongings in Locker No. 252. He was given a toothbrush and pajamas and his
own military bunk. The poor kid from Tampa felt like he was finally home.
He was there barely a week when it happened. Some bullies caught him
outside the showers, and the next thing he knew he was in the middle of a
tangle of feet and fists. Willy knew how to fight, and he was choking one
of his attackers in a headlock when a cottage father busted in.
The school's disciplinarian, R.W. Hatton, asked Willy who he had been
fighting, but the boy would not give up the names. Better to be punished
than be branded a puke.
You're going down, Hatton told him.
They dragged him across that manicured campus, toward the squat concrete
building called the White House. They dragged him through the door.
Boys were dragged to the White House in ones and twos and threes, and
sometimes there was a line outside, and sometimes a white dog kept watch.
Here came Marshall Drawdy, Eddie Horne, Robert Lundy, Manuel Giddens . . .
And Jerry Cooper, snatched from his bed at midnight and dragged through the
dark, bare feet over wet grass.
Shut your f------ mouth! one of the men told him. What do you know about a
Just outside the door he saw a limp figure lying still. A boy. Blood on his
And Larry Houston, Bryant Middleton, Donald Stratton . . .
And William Horne, waiting to go through the door when he heard a boy
Then: I think we done killed him.
And Charles Rambo, George Goewey, James Griffin . . .
And Roger Kiser, a scrawny orphan. The stench hit him as he walked through
the door. He tripped and fell and a man grabbed him and slung him on the
bloody mattress. Over his shoulder, he could see that the man only had one
Bite that pillow.
And Paul Carrin, Michael Greenway, Henry Williams, Roy Conerly, Willie
Roberts, John Brodnax, Frank Marx, from different cottages, different
years, different circumstances, the same destination.
And Willy Haynes, who had asked the judge to send him here, who had wanted
to throw a football under the pines. Over 18 months, the men dragged Willy
into the White House again and again.
Lay down. Hold the rail. Don't make a sound.
He could hear the strap coming. It started with the pivot, the shuffle of
boots on concrete. The strap hit the wall, then the ceiling, then thighs
and buttocks and back, and it felt like an explosion.
When he got back to the cottage, Willy stood in the shower and let the cold
water wash bits of underwear from his lacerations, as his blood ran toward
The men gathered at the Florida School for Boys on Oct. 21, 2008.
The last time they had stepped on this sprawling campus, they were
fresh-faced punks with the world before them. Now their hair was gray and
their faces sagged. Their backs ached from a night in motel beds. They
carried pictures of children and grandchildren in their wallets.
Dick Colón had flown in from Baltimore, where he owns an electrical
contracting company. The 65-year-old was tormented by the memory of seeing
a boy being stuffed into an industrial dryer. Next to him stood Michael
O'McCarthy, a writer and political activist from Costa Rica, who was beaten
so badly he was treated at the school infirmary. To his left was Roger
Kiser, a Chicken Soup for the Soul contributor who had driven down from
Brunswick, Ga., bent on retribution. On the end was a quiet man named
Robert Straley, who sells glow lights and carnival novelties. He drove up
from Clearwater. He had been having recurring nightmares of a man sitting
on his bed.
Then there was Willy Haynes. He was 65 and went by Bill now. A tall, broad
man, Haynes had worked for 30 years for the Alabama Department of
Corrections. Haynes didn't feel good. There were plenty of places he'd
rather be. But he knew he had to do this.
The men now called themselves the White House Boys.
In the past year, they had each searched online for information about the
Florida School for Boys, for something that suggested they weren't the only
ones burdened by their experience at the school. They had found Roger
Kiser's Web site. Kiser added their memories and photos to his blog.
They approached the state, seeking official acknowledgement that they had
been abused and hoping to find some resolution along the way.
They found a friend in Gus Barreiro of the state Department of Juvenile
Justice. He set up this ceremony to close and seal the White House. He even
ordered a plaque to be mounted on the building:
In memory of the children who passed these doors, we acknowledge their
tribulations and offer our hope that they have found some measure of peace.
May this building stand as a reminder of the need to remain vigilant in
protecting our children as we help them seek a brighter future.
A small crowd gathered that Tuesday morning: state officials, school staff,
television crews and newspaper reporters.
Bill Haynes approached the podium. He was nervous, but he tried to speak
"I have tried to understand why as a child in need of supervision I had to
be beaten in such a brutal and sadistic manner," he said. "My experience at
F.S.B. has mentally scarred me."
When it was time, the men turned to go inside the White House. The
reporters and photographers surged close.
Bill Haynes stood at the door and stared into the darkness. He had driven
so far. He had to go in, to face as an adult whatever it was that haunted
He tried to step through the door.
His knees buckled.
Once the White House Boys told their stories in front of the cameras, other
men came forward with other memories.
George Goewey heard about the newspaper story at a St. Petersburg
Starbucks. He remembered how the one-armed man would swing from down low,
and how the strap would hit the ceiling, and how you could time the pain.
Eddie Horne was at work at a downtown St. Petersburg Publix when he saw the
newspaper photograph of the White House. God's got a beating coming for the
men who swung that strap, he says.
One man told of how he had holed up in the library, reading Tom Sawyer 11,
12, 13 times, to hide, to stay out of trouble. One remembered a kid who
tried to run away and died from exposure while hiding under a cottage.
Another had a story about a boy who was taken to the White House and never
Most of the men recalled being beaten by two staffers: R.W. Hatton and the
one-armed man, Troy Tidwell. At least three men described being sexually
abused by other guards in an underground room they called the rape room.
And there was something else. Newspapers had published a photograph of a
small cemetery. Thirty-one white crosses. No names.
As stories of deaths and disappearances emerged from their collective
memory, the White House Boys began to believe that they were the lucky
When Troy Warren heard of the cemetery, his mind went back to his stay at
the school. He says he and another boy were ordered to dig three holes
behind the chow hall. They were to dig at night. Tidwell and another guard
told them to make the holes 4 feet deep, and as long as a boy.
Monica Adams was in bed at her home in Tampa, drifting in and out of sleep
with the television on in the background. Life had not been the same since
her husband, Ed, died in September 2004. He weighed heavy on her mind,
About 1 a.m., something made her sit up straight. There it was, on CNN.
This is what he had been talking about.
Ed had died a painful death. He was abusing antidepressants and had stopped
eating. He had shriveled from 165 pounds to less than 100. As he neared the
end, it seemed to his wife that he was reliving his childhood. He sat up at
night for hours on end writing, filling pages of notebook paper.
After I saw these straps - long ones, thick ones, short ones - they
reminded me of razor straps on the side of barber chairs. . . . I knew
something horrible was going to happen to me. I was taken into a room and
placed on a small bed about 3 ft wide, maybe 5 or 6 feet long. The bed was
near the floor and had a filthy mattress on it. I was told to hold on to
the end of the bed and not move or cry out. And then I remember the sound
of something cutting the air, followed by a pain I can't describe. The most
horrible pain a human being can imagine. It hurt so terribly bad. I would
try and move to get up from the bed. God, Please make them stop beating me.
But they beat me and beat me so bad.
He wrote of being beaten by the one-armed man.
I can't write anymore about this. God make them stop.
Night after night, while his family slept.
God please stop this! Please!!
Just before Ed slipped away, he scribbled a note for his wife and children,
a last will and testament on notebook paper. He had two dying wishes.
The first was to transfer the Elvis songs he had recorded from cassette to
compact disc. The other was to tell people how he had been abused at the
Florida School for Boys.
The White House Boys Got a lawyer and filed suit against several state
agencies. More than 200 men signed on. R.W. Hatton was dead, but Troy
Tidwell, the one-armed man, was still alive. He is named in the suit.
Gov. Charlie Crist called for an investigation into the graves. The Florida
Department of Law Enforcement started pulling records and asking questions.
They talked to Troy Warren, who remembers digging boy-sized holes.
How could this happen? How was this allowed to continue? Why didn't someone
speak up sooner?
But people have been speaking out about the Florida School for Boys for
more than 100 years.
The first scandal came in 1903, a mere three years after the school opened.
Investigators found children "in irons, just as common criminals." This was
no reform school, their report said. This was a prison for children.
The investigation would launch a seemingly endless cycle of exposes and
In its first two decades, investigators discovered that school
administrators hired out boys to work with state convicts. They also
learned that students were brutally beaten with a leather strap attached to
a wooden handle.
In 1914, six boys and two staff members died trapped in a burning
dormitory. A grand jury learned the superintendent and staff were in town
on a "pleasure bent" when the fire started.
The superintendent lost his job.
Trouble continued with each passing year, from reports of inadequate
medical care to the murder of two students by peers.
Outsiders had no idea. Every year, thousands of families came from miles
around at Christmastime to see elaborate decorations built by the boys.
Headlights stretched down dirt roads as people puttered through the campus,
past waving mechanical Santas, plywood nativity scenes and angels with
By 1956, the overcrowded Marianna facility housed 698 students and 128
staffers. It had become the largest boys' school in the country, and it was
In March 1958, a Miami psychologist and former staff member at the school
told a U.S. Senate committee about mass beatings with a heavy, 3
½-inch-wide leather strap.
"The blows are very severe," Dr. Eugene Byrd testified. "They are dealt
with a great deal of force with a full arm swing over his head and down,
with a strap, a leather strap approximately a half-inch thick and about 10
inches long with a wooden formed handle."
"What is your opinion?" a senator asked.
"In my personal opinion it is brutality."
In 1968, corporal punishment was outlawed in state-run institutions. By
then, the school had been renamed the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys,
after a longtime superintendent. That year, Gov. Claude Kirk visited
Marianna. He found holes in the leaking ceilings and broken walls, bucket
toilets, bunk beds crammed together to accommodate overcrowding, no heat in
the winter. Kirk declared it a training ground for a life of crime.
"If one of your kids were kept in such circumstances," he said, "you'd be
up there with rifles."
An official from the U.S. Department of Health called it a "monstrosity."
One juvenile court judge who toured the facility vowed never again to send
boys there. Another said it was so understaffed that boys were left alone
at night and sexual perversion was common.
A year later, a reporter for the Christian Science Monitor visited the
school and found a 16-year-old named Jim in solitary confinement. Jim had
eaten a lightbulb, then used a glass diffuser pried from a lighting fixture
to gash his arm a dozen times from wrist to elbow.
"No one seemed to care," the reporter wrote. The headline read, Bulldoze
them to the ground.
More reforms were ordered, administrators were replaced. A preacher began a
ministry at the school. Staffers visited a successful juvenile program in
Red Wing, Minn., and brought back lessons. Love, not fear, is the best
For a few years, all was quiet.
Ten years later, in 1978, Jack Levine was teaching delinquent kids at a
short-term residential center in Tallahassee when he heard about the Dozier
school. The kids said it was a bad place.
One Sunday afternoon in November, Levine drove up to the entry gate and
showed Health and Rehabilitative Services credentials. He found a lockup
facility at the back of the campus. He could see a long hallway lined with
metal doors. It was dark and reeked of body odor and urine.
Are there kids in here?
Yeah, said the guard.
I want to meet one. How about this cell?
There were top and bottom slip locks and bolts. One lock wouldn't budge.
The man went back to his desk, grabbed a book - the Holy Bible - and
whacked the lock.
Inside on a concrete slab, not a mattress, Levine saw a very thin, small,
frightened boy with a shaved head and pajama bottoms, no shirt.
How long have you been in here? Levine asked.
The boy shrugged.
He's been here for a while, the guard said.
The guard told Levine the boy was locked up for his own protection. Theon.
The boy said the older boys were sodomizing him with a broom handle.
Why is his head shaved? Levine asked.
The boy has been pulling his hair out, the guard said.
Is he getting any help?
We just pass the food in.
Levine, who would become a well-known child advocate, told his supervisor
back in Tallahassee. Nothing came of it until Levine brought it to the
attention of an ACLU attorney. In 1983, the class-action "Bobby M" lawsuit
was filed on behalf of students at Marianna and two other state reform
The suit made a number of allegations, the most serious concerning
isolation cells where boys were held for three weeks, sometimes longer.
They were hogtied - forced to lie on their stomachs with their wrists and
ankles shackled together behind their backs.
The suit was in the courts through three governors. Superintendent Lenox
Williams was transferred. On the eve of the 1987 trial, the state settled,
agreeing to sharply reduce the population at Dozier and another juvenile
institution. "These reforms launch Florida into a new and progressive era
in the way we treat young offenders,'' HRS secretary Gregory Coler said at
It didn't last.
In 1993, teenagers attacked two British tourists at a rest stop near
Monticello, killing one. Already upset with increasingly violent youth,
Floridians were in no mood to coddle young criminals. By 1994, Gov. Lawton
Chiles asked a federal court to throw out the population caps at Dozier.
Juvenile justice rides the waves of public perception. Investigations bring
outrage. Outrage brings promises of better funding and training, better
monitoring, better checks and balances. Then the attention fades, and with
it the reforms. In 1903, investigators found kids in shackles. Nearly 80
years later, investigators found kids hogtied.
The school is still open, and still called the Arthur G. Dozier School for
Boys. It houses about 130 kids.
The state now makes available a telephone that children at the school can
use to report abuse. The Department of Children and Families monitors those
From July 2004 to March 2009, DCF investigated 316 allegations of abuse at
the school, according to documents obtained by the St. Petersburg Times.
Seventeen of those were verified. Thirty-three had "some indicator" of
One incident was caught on security camera. Now it's on YouTube.
On Feb. 11, 2007, a skinny 18-year-old named Justin Caldwell is standing
still in a dormitory at the school. A heavy-set guard approaches him and
stands there for a moment. Then he grabs Caldwell by the throat and slams
him backward on the ground. The guard drags the boy into the center of the
room, his head bleeding, and leaves him. Caldwell looks to be unconscious.
His legs twitch.
Two months later, the school's superintendent and a guard were fired. State
officials decried operational problems at the school that "span the chain
of command from top to bottom.'' The school's 200 employees would be
trained to use verbal intervention instead of physical contact.
What is the cost to society of such a place? It's hard to know whether
trauma at the Florida School for Boys set children on a course for
violence. But one man knew that the school was harming kids: Lenox
Williams, who took over as superintendent in 1966.
The St. Petersburg Times interviewed Williams for a 1968 story, "Hell's
1,400 Acres." He acknowledged the school was so understaffed that kids were
learning how to sniff glue, break into groceries, or sodomize other kids.
"I know some children are harmed by their experience here," Williams told
the reporter. "But what can we do?"
Studies at the time showed that in facilities with fewer than 150 children,
only 6 percent got into trouble and were sent back. Overcrowded Marianna
had a returnee rate of nearly 30 percent, Williams said, while the rate of
children going on to a life of crime was even higher.
Many of the children who left the school in the 1950s and '60s went on to
rape and rob and kill.
After 14 months at the school, Leon Holston killed three younger boys in
Pompano Beach. He has been serving a life sentence in state prison since
1968. Roger Lee Cherry is facing execution for the 1986 murder of an
elderly DeLand woman. Robert Hendrix is on death row for shooting a
Sorrento man and slitting his wife's throat in 1991. Frank Smith died on
Donn Duncan is serving life for the 1990 murder of his fiancee in the
Orange County home they shared. He broke a knife off in the woman's back in
front of her 13-year-old daughter. "I remember that place like it was
yesterday," Duncan wrote in a letter to the Times.
The list goes on. Others have been in and out of prison their whole lives.
George Goewey has been arrested 38 times, most recently accused of cocaine
possession and sale. He says he's clean now, and the 62-year-old has a
stable job at a scooter shop in St. Petersburg, but he blames the school
for ruining his life.
"You learned how to be sneaky," he says. "I lost all respect for
Manuel Giddens was serving time in Marianna while his father was founding
Lighthouse Gospel Mission, preaching to Tampa's homeless and building a
successful recovery program. By the time Giddens got out, he had learned to
hot-wire cars and pick locks. Shortly after his release, he broke into a
hardware store in Fort Myers. Then he started running marijuana and cocaine
out of Colombia, through Miami and Fort Lauderdale, into Fort Myers in
shrimp boats, to cities up and down the East Coast. He has been in and out
of prison for 40 years.
"Marianna is the root of my whole problem," he says. "If I hadn't have been
through that period of time, I would have took on my father's religion. I
was born to be a pastor, and it didn't happen. I was born to take over the
mission, and I turned and went the other way."
What about the others? How does childhood trauma manifest itself in
Robert Straley stopped leaving the house much when he nearly had a meltdown
at a Wal-Mart. Roger Kiser is in his sixth marriage and still has trouble
with hugs. Charles Rambo couldn't sleep in the dark until he was 25. James
Griffin is 63 and still can't.
Jerry Cooper is 64 and takes Lexapro to calm his nerves. His wife once told
him that the manager at the grocery store had asked for her number. Cooper
drove to the store and waited in the parking lot. He walked to the man's
car and punched through the window. It took five police officers to pull
"Even today I have a problem with authority," he says. "It has plagued me
all my life."
Robert Lundy tried to drink the demons away. It cost him three marriages.
Michael O'McCarthy turned to alcohol, too, but the drinking led to paranoia
and depression and self-loathing. Just a few years after Marianna,
O'McCarthy tried to rob a gas station in California with a pretend gun. He
spent seven years in prison.
"Look at what they did to us," he says. "We were children. We were still
Bryant Middleton earned a Purple Heart in Vietnam. He'd go back there
before he'd go back to Marianna.
Eddie Horne sometimes has phantom pain. "I'll be laying in bed and I can
feel the pain from where they beat me," he says. "I just want to go up
there and make them pay."
From outward appearances, Stu Kruger has enjoyed good things in life. The
67-year-old worked on Wall Street and now runs a credit repair business in
Miami. But he's never been able to stay put more than a year or two. He
feels like someone is always after him.
"I've never told anybody this before," he says. He fishes into his pocket
In Marianna, he and another boy had tried to run. They were marching back
from the Saturday matinee in town, The Bridge on the River Kwai, when they
tore off into the woods. They stole a car and peeled toward New York. But
the state police caught them a mile or two out of town.
At the White House, the other boy went in first. Kruger sat in another
room. As his friend screamed for his life, Kruger bent over and picked up a
small pebble off the floor and rolled it in his fingers and thought about
how small it was and how good it felt.
Fifty years and five marriages later, he pulls his hand out of his pocket.
In his palm is a tiny pebble.
"I can't go anywhere without it," he says. "Fifty f------ years."
The City of Southern Charm: Marianna, pop. 6,200.
On weekends, hunters chase white-tailed deer through the thick pine woods.
Preachers pack churches on Sunday mornings. Traffic along Marianna's
picture-postcard main street slows to a crawl at 5 o'clock on weekdays,
when the bells ring at the First Baptist Church and the sun sets on a tall
Confederate memorial downtown.
In some ways, not much has changed in 50 years. But Interstate 10 cuts
south of the city now, and a cluster of chain hotels and restaurants and a
Wal-Mart Supercenter have sprung up around Exit 142, edging the city toward
Since the allegations of abuse were made public, some in town have pulled
together to defend the school. They've suggested the White House Boys are
exaggerating - even lying - and trying to milk money from the state. During
a Chamber of Commerce breakfast, someone suggested the memorial plaque at
the White House be removed. The local newspaper launched a series: "In
Defense of Dozier."
"Unfortunately, you can throw mud and dirt further than you can throw clean
sand," wrote a columnist for the Jackson County Times. "These claims have
not been proven or substantiated, but much national media attention has
been generated which includes very negative publicity for our community."
A few men who worked at the school long ago still live in the area.
Sammie West lives outside town. He's 71 now.
West started at the school in 1960 and stayed for 40 years in a number of
jobs including cottage father. He says he personally spanked two boys, and
he administered fewer than 10 swats each. He even remembers their names.
But that was state-approved protocol at the time, and it was always
witnessed by a supervisor. The staff stopped paddling boys in 1968, he
"I do not know what went on behind closed doors," he says. "I would not say
that there has never been a boy abused. It's going to happen. But I never
saw it or heard about it. . . . I think they was spanked, and that's it."
He recalls three deaths at the school in his 40 years: A boy was found at
the bottom of the swimming pool, a boy died from a heart condition in the
gymnasium, and a boy drowned during a canoe trip on the Chipola River.
He says when the boys would run, he and other men were responsible for
tracking them down, a task that often took hours. And a lot of boys ran
before the campus was fenced in.
"Sometimes you'd go a month without boy hunting," he says. "And sometimes
you'd go boy hunting every night."
Former Gov. Claude Kirk, now 83, remembers boys locked in their dorms at
night with a chain. But he says he never heard about physical or sexual
abuse. "None of that surfaced at the time," he says. "If it had, I would
have done something about it. Put somebody in jail."
The men who were beaten say there's no way the abuse could have been kept
secret. They say they sent photos of their behinds out with friends who
were being released. Some told their families on visits, but things didn't
change. Many needed medical treatment after their beatings. Some recall a
Dr. Wexler smearing ointment on their lacerations.
Wexler is dead, but his daughter remembers helping her father, who had poor
eyesight, when their family lived on campus. Sheila Wexler says he
occasionally treated boys who had cuts or welts on their behinds. "But if
they needed a stitch," she says, "it would only be a few."
Lenox Williams lives down a dirt road, in a sturdy cabin he built himself,
where a sign that says "Grandaddy's House" hangs beside the front door, and
the porch radio is tuned to a Southern preacher. Inside, the walls are
covered with antique farm implements and family photos. A framed
certificate proclaims Williams a deacon at Trinity Baptist Church.
When he was hired as a psychologist in 1960, the school had a history of
anemic funding. Buildings were falling apart. Mentally handicapped children
shared the campus with 18-year-old sex offenders, because the state had no
other place to send juvenile delinquents. The population swelled to more
than 900 boys supervised by only 140 adults, which made keeping order a
"There probably were some abuses," says Williams, who was superintendent
from 1966 to 1986. "Anytime you've got human beings together, you're going
to have people abusing each other."
Williams does not believe anyone was beaten to death. The old cemetery was
there when he arrived. He ordered a Boy Scout troop to clean it up and
fashion 31 new metal markers. He asked a Florida State graduate student to
compile a history of the school and try to learn who was buried there.
The student found that the cemetery held six boys who died in the 1914
fire; 10 who died during an influenza epidemic in 1918; a boy who died
after a prolonged illness in 1935; a runaway whose decomposed body was
found under a private residence in Marianna in 1941; a boy found dead in
the laundry after being beaten by another boy in 1949; two dogs and a
peacock named Sue. He could account for 22 of the 31 graves.
Williams suspects the names of the others have been lost to time, not
something more sinister.
He says he has never seen a leather strap the men talk about. He says it
was protocol to give 10 to 12 licks, depending on a boy's size.
"We used a paddle," he says. "We were supposed to administer it to the
buttocks and nowhere else, and we did."
Williams may have a faulty memory. In 1997, he was deposed when former
boys' school student Roger Lee Cherry appealed his death sentence. "Was
corporal punishment used at that time in 1962?" an attorney asked.
"Yes," Williams replied.
"Did that ever get out of hand?" the attorney asked.
"At times it did, yes."
A later superintendent, Roy McKay, who has died, offered a sworn statement
for the same appeal.
"Although I never witnessed or participated in the strappings that were
used as a form of punishment in the 1960s and 1970s at Dozier, I did
witness the aftermath of this form of discipline. On many occasions, a
child would come to my class and would be unable to sit down after being
beaten with a leather strap in the woodshed we called 'the White House.' "
In a later interview with the Times, Williams says he may have been aware
of the beatings before he was promoted to superintendent in 1966. He pauses
over his grits. "I think there were some who might have enjoyed it on our
staff," he says. "Might have enjoyed the over-spanking."
Troy Tidwell lives in a white house near the center of Marianna. He doesn't
answer his door.
"We're trying to shield him as best we can," his landlord says on the
phone. "He's an 85-year-old man."
"You're just trying to ruin a good man's life," says his ex-wife, Mary.
"Leave him alone!"
Tidwell's granddaughter, Tiffany Pippin, says her family doubts the
stories. They know a man who danced the fox-trot on Friday nights, who took
his grandchildren fishing, who flirted with the ladies behind the perfume
counter at the mall in Dothan, Ala. They know a man who always dressed
sharp before he left the house and sat quiet in the First Baptist Church on
Sunday mornings. "He's a good man," says Pippin, 29. "He loved his wife. He
never beat his children."
Tidwell's family lived in Bascom, a tiny town north of Marianna, Pippin
says. His father died when he was young. When Troy Tidwell was 6, he played
with his father's shotgun. He leaned on the barrel and accidentally fired
the gun, which severed his left arm.
He's self-conscious about it and sits with his arm facing the wall when the
family goes out to dinner. Pippin says her grandfather has worked hard his
whole life to overcome the handicap, and after more than 40 years at the
school he deserves a peaceful retirement. That's why the allegations burn.
"It's an embarrassment and defamation of character," she wrote in an e-mail
to the Times. "That's why we are so upset about the lies and exaggerations
made up by these men in an attempt for them to receive retribution."
But she says neither her mother nor her uncle have asked Tidwell about the
allegations. They respect him too much to ask.
Tidwell's lawyer, Matthew Fuqua, says Tidwell admitted that staffers used
corporal punishment, but says the White House Boys' accounts are
exaggerated or completely false.
"He said, 'I never saw any child with bloody pants, bruised and bloody from
being whipped. Certainly I never did it, and I can't imagine that anybody
else did it either because I would have known about it.' "
How does that square with the stories?
"I don't know," Fuqua says. "I don't know whether they're lying, or the
abuse that happened when they were a child was magnified over a time. All
those kids, it was a bad situation they were here. Most of them were lonely
and from broken homes. I don't know if it was magnified in their eyes. But
the allegations of bloody underwear and that type of stuff, he just says
didn't occur, or he was not aware of it occurring."
Bill Haynes is retiring after 30 years working for the Alabama Department
of Corrections. He and his wife have a nice patch of land off a dirt road
in a small town outside Montgomery. They live in a warm little brick house
with a dachshund and a china cabinet full of glass Jesus figurines.
He's been having a hard time sleeping. His old nightmares are back. He
dreams he is running through the swamp, dogs behind him. He wonders if he
ever should have gotten involved.
What is he owed? How do you measure a life of conversations cut short? How
do you repay a man for years of distrust?
He wants reparations from the state, if it will make the juvenile officers
of Florida think twice before hitting a child. He'd like to see Arthur G.
Dozier's name come off the school. He says he took a beating from Dozier
himself, and that kind of sin should preclude the man from posthumous
Bill Haynes thinks about Troy Tidwell sometimes. He thinks he'd like to
knock the taste out of his mouth. "But that would make me no better than
him," he says. "I should have compassion for him."
He is told that Tidwell has been upset by the lawsuit, physically and
emotionally, that it has disturbed what little life he has left. He stopped
going to church. He hasn't been dancing. He asked his granddaughter if she
would like to have his furniture.
Haynes is told that Tidwell can't sleep at night, and that he's alone,
blinds drawn, scared to come out of his little white house. Maybe, he says,
that's good enough.
Times researchers Caryn Baird and Will Gorham and photojournalist Edmund D.
Fountain contributed to this report. Ben Montgomery can be reached at (727)
893-8650 or email@example.com. Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at
(727) 892-2283 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
About this story
This story is based on more than 100 hours of interviews with 27 men who
were sent to the Florida School for Boys in the 1950s and '60s, and with
current and former officials with the state, the school and the Department
of Juvenile Justice. The interviews were supplemented with newspaper
clippings, congressional and court testimony, archival photographs and
other documents. Over five months, the reporters traveled to Marianna four
times. Since launching its investigation, the Florida Department of Law
Enforcement has sealed access to the school, now called the Arthur G.
Dozier School for Boys. Through his attorney, Troy Tidwell declined to be
The Times plans continued coverage of the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys.
To talk to a reporter, call (727) 893-8650 or (727) 892-2283.
What they said
June 1, 1903: Report from investigative committee to the Florida Senate
"We found them in irons, just as common criminals, which in the judgment of
your committee, is not the meaning of a 'State Reform School,' as defined
by the law creating said school, and should not be so construed by those in
authority of said Reform School. We have no hesitancy in saying, under its
present management it is nothing more nor less than a prison, where
juvenile prisoners are confined."
1911: Report from an investigative committee
The children are "at times unnecessarily and brutally punished, the
instrument of punishment being a leather strap fastened to a wooden
Jan. 5, 1915: Jackson County grand jury
"We . find that the employees were men who were not settled in life, who
have had no experience in raising boys of their own or anybody else's and
who know nothing about the science of bringing up children in the way they
should go. We find that the young men having direct supervision of the boys
were immoral and not proper persons to lead wayward boys toward
March 18, 1948: Superintendent
Arthur G. Dozier
"When a boy leaves Marianna, he is in good health, has caught up with his
studies, has a new set of values, a fair basic knowledge of a trade and is
usually resolved to lead a new and better life.
"The chances are about three to one that the boy will have no further
conflict with law enforcement agencies."
March 3, 1958: Dr. Eugene Byrd, testimony before a U.S. Senate subcommittee
on juvenile delinquency
"There are two rooms, one room in which they weighed in; the other room in
which they are beat consists of a cot on which they lay down. They are told
to hold the head rail and not to yell out nor to move. They are beaten by
the director of the department, not the superintendent of the school. The
superintendent does witness each beating."
March 11, 1958: Superintendent
Arthur G. Dozier
"There has been no brutality
in this school."
Dec. 21, 1967: Joseph Miele, a Pinellas County court-appointed defense
attorney, arguing his client, Gary H. Reed, shouldn't be sentenced to
"If you send him up there, you will be putting a good apple in a barrel
with some rotten apples. Up there they are going to teach Gary to do things
without getting caught."
March 20, 1968: St. Petersburg Times news story
"Roy Manella, an official of the U.S. Department of Health, Education and
Welfare, said at a Tallahassee news conference that the Marianna
institution was one of the worst examples in the nation of a boys' reform
March 31, 1968: "Hell's 1,400 Acres,"
St. Petersburg Times
"Here, friends, are 605 of your delinquent children. If they weren't Really
Bad when they got here, chances are they're learning. Learning to sniff
glue, gasoline and shoe wax. Learning to steal cars and break into
groceries in a more professional way. And sometimes learning about sodomy
and other perversions."
Feb. 24, 1969: Judge Frank Orlando, Fort Lauderdale
"When a couple of boys I sent up there came over to say hello I felt like a
rat for sending them to that place."
Feb. 25, 1969: Evening Independent editorial
"It is time that we quit being shocked every time an outsider visits
Marianna. It is time we found out why such conditions continue to exist and
who is responsible for them."
Nov. 24, 1982: St. Petersburg Times editorial
"The cruel practice cannot be justified. Guards wouldn't be allowed to
hogtie inmates in adult prisons. Why should authorities be allowed to do
something that barbaric to children? State officials responsible for
allowing the practice deserve more than admonishment. They should be
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