US WORLD NEWS
Florida reform school abuse victims recall horrors
Wednesday October 22, 2008 2:31 PM
By BRENDAN FARRINGTON
Associated Press Writer= MARIANNA, Fla. (AP) - Mike McCarthy walked into a
small white building on the grounds of the Arthur G. Dozier School for the
first time in 40 years and the memories of horrific beatings came flooding
"There was blood splattered all over the walls," he said, standing in a
dark room barely big enough to fit the bed he and other children laid in
while they were beaten with a leather-and-metal strap. After a moment, he
muttered, "God, I've got to get out of here."
McCarthy, now 65 and living in Costa Rica, and four other men who spent
time in the 1950s and 1960s at what was then called the Florida State
Reform School returned Tuesday to hear the state Department of Juvenile
Justice acknowledge the abuse that took place at the sprawling northern
Florida facility, about 70 miles northwest of Tallahassee.
On a beautiful fall day, with birds swooping and singing in the pine trees
behind them, each of the five men, who call themselves "The White House
Boys," recalled brutal beatings, punishment for offenses as slight as
singing, or talking to a black inmate. Boys would be hit dozens of times
â?" sometimes more than 100 â?" with a wide, three-foot long leather strap
that had sheet metal stuffed in the middle.
Roger Kiser was sent to the facility after running away from a Jacksonville
orphanage where a woman was molesting him. But after his first trip to The
White House, he knew he would have been better off at the orphanage.
"When I walked out of this building ... when I looked in the mirror, I
couldn't tell who I was, I was so bloodied," said Kiser, 62, who now lives
in Brunswick, Ga. "From that day forward, I've never forgotten what rotten
SOBs the human being can be."
For years later, he worked menial jobs because he said he lost his
self-respect. All this, and he had never committed a crime.
"Nobody treated me with respect, I was nothing more than a dog," he said.
"I certainly hope things have changed. I pray to God."
In a building just across from The White House was a place the boys
referred to as the rape room. Robert Straley, 62, of Clearwater, was 13 and
about 105 pounds when he was sent there. He remembered being woken up one
night and being accused of smoking, and told that if he denied it, he would
"I was on the entertainment list for the night. That's what it was,"
He remembers a man with an iron grip grabbing his arm.
"They were monsters. Oh my God, the things they did," Straley said.
"When these men had me down, you weren't going to turn into Bruce Lee, you
only had one option and that was you could scream all you wanted."
Dick Colon remembers trying not to scream. He was told by guards that if he
made a peep, the beating would last longer. Guards would force him to lay
on a bed.
"The pillow he asked you to bury your face in was all blood and snot and
guts," Colon said.
He described the pain as feeling like someone pouring a pot of boiling
water on his naked body. The pain got worse with each hit.
"You screamed in your mind and your heart, and in every ounce of your body
you screamed, but you didn't peep. The man told you, 'Don't peep! I'll
start at one and I'll go all over again,'" said Colon, 66, who now lives in
He remembers standing up after one of the beatings and came nose-to-nose
with a guard who had a smile on his face.
"I thought to myself, 'God almighty, if I could right now, I would reach
into your chest cavity and I would pull out your heart and I would bite it
while you looked at me,'" Colon said. "He looked at me with a face of
satisfaction and contentment over the whipping that he gave me."
After the men spoke, former state Rep. Gus Barreiro, now the Department of
Juvenile Justice's chief of state residential programs, unveiled a plaque
outside The White House as an acknowledgment of the torture. The detention
center is still open, but the White House building has been locked up since
The group planted a tree outside the building. Later, they drove to a
nearby cemetery where 31 unmarked iron crosses mark the graves of unknown
dead â?" bodies The White House Boys believe are children beaten to death
at the reform school.
"That's a sorry something for a head marker," said Bill Haynes, 65, who was
an inmate at the school in the late 1950s and now works in the Alabama
Department of Corrections. "This may not be the only place they ever buried
Straley said as far as he knows, no one was ever prosecuted for the
beatings or rapes. The men, who seek out other victims and have researched
the facility, say it's not clear why the abuse finally stopped. Perhaps the
victims' complaints were finally heard.
At the end of the day, Straley said it was hard to find a sense of closure
because the things that he suffered had filled him with rage.
"It might lessen some of it, I don't know," Straley said softly.
"Maybe it did change my mind a little bit seeing what the place looks like
today and knowing they aren't just beating the hell out of these kids."