Men Say They Were Tortured at Florida Reform School
MARIANNA, FL -- The story you're about to read contains images and language that is graphic and disturbing.
The memories are haunting. "It bothers me, but I just sort of cut it off," says Roger Kiser. He remembers every
single second of his childhood. A childhood he wishes he could forget.
At five years old, his life changed. His mother abandoned him. "I've never been able to find out who my father was."
An orphan, home became the Children's Home Society in Jacksonville.
"When we were there, we had nothing. We had no toys. We had nothing. There was nothing to do but play on two
broken swings and some monkey bars. We had one roller skate. That was the only toy I remember having." Kiser
stayed at CHS until he was 12 years old.
In 1959, the state sent him to a school just outside of Tallahassee. It was called the Florida Reform School for Boys
"That was a very happy day for me, to know I was going to the reform school. I was getting out of this mess, but boy
did I not realize I was going into hell."
The school focused on educating troubled boys and teaching them trades, which would help in their future.
Kiser says on his first day, he was told about a place on campus called the "White House." It was a place you didn't
want to go to, a place near the mess hall. It was a place where lives were changed forever.
"A lot of good boys went in this White House, but a lot more Charlie Mansons walked out than good boys, and
that's absolutely true," says Kiser.
Kiser says he was told if you tried to run away, the White House is where you would go for a beating.
"I said, 'I'm not worried about that. I'm not going to run away.' I had nowhere to run to." Kiser says the beatings
started happening more often and for a number of reasons.
He says the beatings happened because boys were caught smoking, cursing or not following directions.
Within months of being at the school, Kiser would make his first trip inside the four walls of the White House. "The
White House torture chamber -- that's what it was, a torture chamber."
Kiser remembers standing with a group of boys and being taken away. "He grabbed me by the arm, and I knew
right then and we started walking. I knew right then I was going down." He says he was not told what he did wrong.
He remembers the moment like it was yesterday. "We made it to the White House door and I remember this story, I
can see it in my head as plain as day, like I was 12 years old. He put the lock in the door and he opened it and
pushed me. There was a concrete step on the floor. My foot didn't make it over and I tripped; when I did I fell on the
floor. The button came off my shirt. It was like slow motion. I watched the button roll down that hallway."
Kiser says he was forced on to a bed, soaked in blood. He says his face was forced into a filthy pillow. "It stunk. We
didn't care about that, we were about to get a beating. Who cares about a little blood and feces and slobber and
guts on a pillow -- that was the least of our problems."
What happened next is locked in his mind forever. "I looked at his face and I knew that man was going to kill me.
There was no doubt about it. He said 'turn your head to the wall,' and I turned my head to the wall. I felt something
slide out from the pillow and I knew what it was, a leather strap. They beat me and beat me and beat me. They beat
me on the back. They beat me on the buttocks, the legs and head.
Kiser says he doesn't know how long the beating lasted because he passed out. When he came to, he found
himself in another building. He says he doesn't know how he got there.
"I walked in the bathroom and I panicked. I couldn't tell who I was. I looked like a monster. I took my pants down and
tried to pull my underwear down, they wouldn't come down. They had been beaten into my buttocks. I just went
crazy crying. The hospital nurse soaked me in Epsom salt and took me in a room and surgically removed
underwear from my buttocks."
Kiser says he visited the White House five times but was only beaten twice. He says those other times he waited in
a line for a beating. "He sent me to the back of the line." Somehow he got lucky. "He said 'I'm too tired to beat your
a** right now.'"
Kiser says he remembers how Saturdays were set aside for the beatings. He talks about the torture while rarely
showing any emotion. He did break down at one point, when he was sharing a story about his friend Joseph who
had just left a beating at the White House.
"I said 'are you ok Joseph.' He said 'Roger would you kiss me.' He said like a grandma would kiss you if you're hurt,
like they love you. I got down on my knees and kissed him on the forehead."
Kiser says while some survived the abuse, others did not. "There were boys that never came back, that were taken
down and never seen again."
He remembers one boy in particular, who was eating in the mess hall and taken away.
"They drug him out of the room and took him to the White House, closed the door and I never saw that boy ever
He also remembers a time when another boy was killed, but not at the White House.
"I saw one of them murdered. He was put in the dryer because he got into the face of the counselor. They had the
boys put him in the tumble dryer. I saw him about 30 minutes later, when he was brought out dead in a white
blanket and thrown into the back seat of a car."
Kiser believes that boy and many other victims are buried in a graveyard which years ago was part of the school's
There are 32 graves which are marked only with a plastic pipe in the shape of a cross.
"No one knew what they were because there's no record of them at this point," says Frank Penela, with the
Department of Juvenile Justice. DJJ took over the reform school in 1994.
Penela says it is unclear who the graves belong to. There is no name; the state has nothing. "We don't even have
records of who is buried there."
It is unclear which state agency ran the school in the 1950s and 60s. DJJ says it has looked at files and record
books from the past, but it has found nothing that signals any abuse.
Still, the state recently acknowledged Kiser's pain and the pain of others. In the last year, three other men have
come forward with similar stories of abuse. "These boys I didn't even know," says Kiser.
Kiser first met the men face-to-face about a month ago. Four boys, who are now men, went back to the White
House for the first time.
"I was in there five times, but I never saw it before because you were too scared to see it. There's this long hallway,
never knew the hallway was there. There's three cells on each side. A little window is there way up high. It's the
only light that comes in. And to the right is one cell and to the left is another cell, and that's the cells where they
There are signs that have been left behind of what happened here. There are blood-stained floors, a bloody
handprint on a doorframe.
There is also a note from a child by the name of Ellerbe. He etched onto the wall his name as well as "1966-67, 19
times." The note marks the years and the number of times Ellerbe went to the White House.
"I don't remember the writing on the wall because I was too afraid to look. I remember the bed and mattress
because it was smelly, and I will never forget the smell," says Kiser.
The stench is still there. Kiser and the other men took pictures inside during their visit -- pictures they hope will
help them say goodbye to a past that has haunted them for decades.
The State has said goodbye too. It has placed a plaque near the White House's front door, marking what children
went through. The State then sealed those doors shut forever. It also plans to tear down the White House.
Kiser's hope is one day he will be able to lock out the past and leave it behind, too. His grandchildren, he says, are
what help him move forward.
He's also put his pain to paper. He is a published author. But there is still one thought that lingers. "It's really a
shame that I didn't see that the world loved me, because I could have given them back so much more as a child."
Kiser has been in contact with investigators from the Department of Justice. There is no word on whether or not the
agency is investigating the matter.
The men, who call themselves the White House Boys, plan to ask the Governor's office in the next two weeks to
open the graves and identify the boys.
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