A Question For Senator Al Lawson
I read the St.Pete Times excellent "For Their Own Good Part Two" a series I
have been following which has put a great light on an institution with a
horrific history that began upon passing an act in 1897 to establish a
state reformatory "for the employment, instruction, correction and
reformation of juvenile offenders."
They resolved that criminals between the ages of ten and sixteen should go
to the reform school for not less than six months or more than four years.
The school would also provide a place to hold orphans or other wards of the
state.The institution opened in 1900 and from the very start the children
at the school worked in "step-chains," until 1930. They were worked in the
fields and if they fell from the heat or exhaustion were flogged where they
fell with a leather whip as was used on slaves in the 1800's.
Considering the severe abuse, floggings, malnutrition and sickness it would
be reasonable to assume that if just three boys a year died between 1900
and 1950 there would be 150 bodies just from that time period. Where are
these bodies? Does the state of Florida expect its citizens to believe the
31 unmarked graves at the Dozier School accounts for all of the deaths over
The most disturbing comment was at the end of the story was when Senator Al
Lawson stated at a Jackson County Chamber of Commerce meeting in Marianna
that he would try to have the plaque removed from the notorious
"whitehouse" punishment room. A room where hundreds of boys were flogged
with leather whips banned by Governor Hardee in 1922 as "too cruel even for
hardened convicts" However, this continued on for the boys of FSB until
1967. Think about it: 81 lashes for a boy of nine, 135 lashes for a
sixteen year old boy, 166 for another. Up to one hour of continuous
beating. Traumatized for life. Filled with rage that would burn through
generations. Wives, sons, daughters, all would suffer.
The plaque mentioned was a promise by the State of Florida to "Tear That
Building Down" in a ceremony held on Wed Oct 21, 2008. It was witnessed by
representatives of the Governor's Office, State Corrections Officials and
Staff of the DJJ. The Staff of the Institution treated us very well and I
expect they thought that five old men would be the end of it. However,
Carole Marbin Miller, who broke the story, and Brendan Farrington,
Associated Press, were present and the story went nationwide the next day
to every major newspaper in the USA and Worldwide as far as India, England,
Whales and other countries.Now the St. Pete Times has become a tireless
champion to expose the continued abuse. The flogging stopped, but the abuse
just took on another form.
Senator Lawson, I have to ask you, considering the brutality that is well
documented and historically factual, open to anyone who cares to look into
the Florida State Archives and the Correctional Archives, how can you even
consider taking down a plaque that bears the only decent shining light of
hope for a better future? If you take down that plaque and its message and
purpose, you will show that the caretakers of Florida's wayward children
have once again embraced darkness. The ground of this institution is soaked
in the blood of children. Will you allow this to continue?
Senator Lawson, please remember your own words: "There are no commitments
greater than those we owe to our children, our seniors and our disabled and
Luke 17:2 [Jesus said,] "It would be better for you if a millstone were
hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea than for you to
cause one of these little ones to stumble."
Robert Straley Clearwater, Fl.