Michael O'McCarthy, activist who sought apology for reform-school abuses, dies
BY CAROL MARBIN MILLER
Michael O'McCarthy, who turned his beating at a Panhandle reformatory a half-century ago into a pitched a
campaign to get lawmakers and juvenile justice administrators to acknowledge the suffering of the so-called ``White
House Boys,'' died of a heart attack Saturday. He was 67, and still waiting for an apology from state officials.
In 2008, O'McCarthy joined forces with a small band of other men -- now all in their 60s and 70s -- who say they were
beaten savagely and sometimes raped in a cinderblock house -- called the White House -- at what is now called the
Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys in Marianna. A native of Islamorada, O'McCarthy was sent there in 1958 for stealing
and running away.
A writer and activist, O'McCarthy's life changed dramatically when he began working with other White House Boys to
tell the story of their abuse at a 109-year-old reform school run by the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice.
``It killed him,'' said former state Rep. Gus Barreiro, who took up the White House Boys' cause when he worked for
DJJ before being fired. ``It killed him, and it drained him. He was consumed by it.''
O'McCarthy, who had been living in rural Costa Rica for the last 18 months, suffered a series of heart attacks
following routine back surgery, said his wife, Jennifer Ziemann, 37. He died Saturday at a San Jose hospital.
O'McCarthy, who helped form a charitable group for other White House alumni and was spearheading a claims bill
before the Legislature, was keenly aware of the odds against him.
``We are dropping like swatted flies,'' he wrote in an unpublished August 2009 essay, ``and many of us will never live
to see redemption in Tallahassee.''
Though juvenile justice administrators recognized the White House Boys' suffering at a two-hour ceremony in 2008,
state officials have never apologized, and a Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigation concluded too
many years had passed for charges to be filed.
Given the inmate number 27719, O'McCarthy entered what was then called the Florida School for Boys on May 14,
1958. He escaped the youth camp July 7, 1958, and was recaptured the next day. That's when the beating occurred,
``It sounded like a shotgun going off,'' O'McCarthy said of his ordeal in a 2008 interview with The Miami Herald.
O'McCarthy said the guards who beat him told him to bite into an old pillow covered in blood, saliva, mucus and
human tissue when the beating took place so that he wouldn't scream. ``I cried into that pillow,'' he said. ``I screamed
into that pillow, and they continued to beat me and beat me and beat me and beat me.''
Well into adulthood, he said, he remained fearful of police and other authority figures because a part of him always
thought he would be taken back to the White House if he misbehaved.
A few years ago, O'McCarthy met Robert Straley, another man who says he was beaten at Dozier, after Straley
contacted him to gain publicity for the White House survivors. Straley knew O'McCarthy had written extensively about
the Rosewood massacre in 1923. He didn't know O'McCarthy also had been to Dozier.
Toward the end of 2009, O'McCarthy visited Straley in Nashville, Straley said. O'McCarthy wrote relentlessly, but the
writing appeared to do little to stanch his anger.
``He was going to pieces, it seemed like,'' Straley said.
Friends and family say the crusade to gain acknowledgment of the White House Boys' suffering consumed
O'McCarthy once the group had formed.
``This whole thing basically broke him,'' said his wife, Jennifer. ``He had been very depressed over the last year. He
had a very difficult time; we had a very difficult time.''
``He exhausted every penny we had in this,'' Ziemann said. ``It just tore him apart.''
Berta Blecke, a Miami children's advocate who had been working with O'McCarthy to set up a foundation, said
O'McCarthy wanted, more than anything, to hear state officials ``fess up'' to the brutality that occurred a half-century
ago -- and, he thought, probably still.
``He was so angry that the system kept throwing stuff back at him, even though all this was documented,'' Blecke
O'McCarthy is survived by his wife, one son and two stepsons: Michael McCarthy, 18; Roby Hubbard, 19; and Jeffrey
Hubbard, 13. According to his instructions, there will be no memorial.
Read more: http://www.miamiherald.com/2010/04/07/1566716/michael-omccarthy-activist-who.html#ixzz0kQI7Y9eZ