Men recall abuse, torture by guards at old Florida reform school
In a place where they were beaten and tortured as young boys, five men,
all in their 60s, recounted the pain and suffering at Florida's oldest reform school.
Men recall dark days at state reformatory
BY CAROL MARBIN MILLER
MARIANNA -- It had been a half-century since 66-year-old Richard Colon had been inside the white-washed
cinderblock building where, he says, reform school guards beat him mercilessly with a leather/metal whip.
As uniformed employees of the Florida Department of Justice listened -- some of them with mouths-agape -- the
memories of Colon's 1958 confinement at the school came flooding back in a torrent as his frail, five-foot-five,
149-pound body trembled and quaked, his wooden cane tapping on the asphalt.
''Jesus, God, what's happening to me,'' he recalled of the third or fourth lash, when the pain started to register. In
all, he said, he was delivered 45 blows inside the 35-square-foot room.
``There was a boom, and it just kept coming, and the pain elevated itself with each lick.
``Get ready for the next one. Get ready for the next one. Here it comes again. Boom! Gasping for air. Gasping for
air. Get ready. Get ready. Another one is coming.''
In an instant, Colon, who built a multimillion dollar electrical contracting company in Baltimore, began sobbing.
Roger Kiser, another White House alum, rose from his chair and held Colon until he could regain his composure.
A squat, unadorned building on the grounds of the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys -- Florida's oldest reform
school -- the White House is where five now middle-aged men say they were beaten ferociously for infractions such
as cursing, smoking, earning poor grades or running away. One man says he was beaten for being around other
boys who discussed running away.
On Tuesday, DJJ administrators invited five of the White House Boys, as they now call themselves, back to
Marianna to confront the suffering of their youth. In an effort to help the men ''heal,'' the agency allowed the men to
make uncensored statements. A mental health counselor and a medic stood nearby to offer care if one of the men
was overcome with grief or anger.
In a two-hour ceremony in front of about 50 DJJ employees, the agency dedicated a plaque outside the building
and planted a young crepe myrtle tree alongside the building.
''In memory of the children who passed through these doors, we acknowledge their tribulations and offer our hope
that they found some measure of peace,'' the plaque reads. ``May this building stand as a reminder of the need to
remain vigilant in protecting our children as we help them to seek a brighter future.''
The building stands, perhaps only as an unworthy frame for the plaque. ''We have a commitment to tear down this
building,'' Gus Barreiro, DJJ's chief of residential services, said as the White House men and agency staff sighed
As the ceremony ended, 64-year-old Robert Straley, who says he was taken to the White House in March 1963,
gingerly touched the plaque with the tips of his fingers. ''That's something,'' he said softly.
`THIS WAS A FLOGGING'
''This was not a trip to the woodshed. This was not spanking. This was not whipping. It was a flogging,'' said Straley
of the punishment meted out at the White House. ``I never heard anybody scream out in pain like that, except for
Michael O'McCarthy, who was raised in Islamorada and now lives in South Carolina, was taken to the reform school
in 1958 and said he was beaten for running away. He said he was told to bite into an old pillow covered in blood,
saliva, mucus and human tissue when the beating occurred so that he wouldn't scream.
''I cried into that pillow. I screamed into that pillow, and they continued to beat me and beat me and beat me and
beat me,'' O'McCarthy said.
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. ''You know what's hanging over your
body is the whip,'' O'McCarthy said.
Kiser, who was taken to Dozier for running away from a Jacksonville orphanage where he said he was starved and
molested, said his beatings at the White House were so severe that he begged to be taken back to the orphanage.
When he finished describing his trips to the White House, Kiser looked toward the juvenile justice employees
gathered in a semi-circle around him, and beseeched them to treat their young charges better than he had been
treated. ''Don't do your job if you can't do it right,'' he said to them. ''I hope things have changed,'' Kiser said. ``I
hope to God.''
Each of the five men walked through the crumbling building, and settled for a time in a roughly six-by-six foot room
where the beatings were administered with a barber shop-style strap that had sheet metal sewn in the middle of it
and was attached to a wooden handle.
''Pieces of my hind end ought to be on that wall somewhere over there, as I took over 100 [lashes],'' said Bill
Haynes, 65, a communications technician with the Alabama Department of Corrections who spent 19 months at the
reform school in 1957 and 1958. A big man in a straw hat, Haynes said he never once laid a hand on a prison
inmate while he was a prison guard for 19 years.
''It is my sincere prayer that these horrible atrocities never occur again to any child,'' Haynes said.
When the White House boys left the building, about two dozen Dozier administrators entered it for the first time.
They walked to the cell in the far left corner where the men say the abuse occurred. On the now crumbling wall
outside the cell, someone had scratched Abraham into the concrete, along with the words ''19 times'' beneath his
''Jesus,'' one of the juvenile justice employees said quietly to herself.
Later in the day, the five men drove to a small kudzu-choked clearing beyond the Dozier campus, now maintained
by the Jackson County Jail, where about 31 boys are buried under rusted pipes of white-pained two-inch
galvanized steel welded into crosses. ''We don't know anything,'' the current superintendent, Mary Zahasky, said of
the graves' occupants.
The White House Boys, who had never before seen the cemetery, were stunned. ''This is a memorial?,'' asked
Straley. ``A pipe in the ground?''
Said Haynes, the former prison guard, ``A sorry something for a headstone.''