12/16/08 Journey to dark side of Florida history
Editorial, Miami Herald

OUR OPINION: Abuse at juvenile reform schools must be exposed

Thanks to four men, now in their 60s, who met on the Internet, and to Gov. Crist who listened to their stories, a
shameful period in Florida history has been tugged from the recesses of a dark and secretive past into the sunshine
of open revelation. The four men are survivors of horrific beatings and abuse that was inflicted on children who
misbehaved at a Marianna reform school 50 years ago.

Crimes of the past

Their stories have so moved Gov. Crist that last week he asked two agencies -- the Florida Department of Law
Enforcement and the Department of Juvenile Justice -- to investigate what happened, document the abuses as best
they can and determine if crimes were committed. It isn't known what will be found or if enough evidence can be
gathered to hold liable anyone still alive who committed crimes.

For now, it is commendable that the governor has launched a search for the truth about the reform school's ghastly
secrets. One of the men, Richard Colon, 66, told Miami Herald staff writer Carol Marbin Miller that guards beat him
and other boys mercilessly with a leather strap that had sheet metal sewn in the middle of it. Mr. Colon told the
newspaper and CNN about feeling guilty for not being able to help a black boy who had been forced into a spinning
clothes dryer. He believes the boy was killed in that incident.

Mr. Colon and his Internet friends adopted the name ''White House Boys,'' for the whitewashed, cinder-block
building where the beatings occurred.

On a visit to the North Florida facility organized by DJJ in October, the men placed a plaque outside the building.
They asked about 32 unidentified gravesites nearby, each marked only with a metal cross. The men believe that the
graves contain the bodies of children who were beaten and abused, and the questions piqued Gov. Crist's interest.

In letters to the DJJ and FDLE, Gov. Crist wrote: ``During the course of the investigation[s], please determine
whether any crimes were committed and, if at all possible, the perpetrators of these crimes.''

Painful journey

It would have been easy for the governor to offer the men his sympathy and condolences for their pain and
suffering. But a state that sweeps its transgressions under a rug to be lost in the opaqueness of history puts itself at
risk of not learning from the mistakes and wrongs of others.

We don't know where the investigations Gov. Crist has asked for will lead. It is clear, though, that it is a journey that
Florida must take.