Florida acknowledges reform school abuse; victims recall horrors of 1950s, 1960s mistreatment


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 back.

"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 lay 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 — sometimes more than 100 — 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
wasmolesting him. But after his first trip to The White House, he knew he would have been better off at the

"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 be punished.

"I was on the entertainment list for the night. That's what it was," Straley said.

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
Baltimore, Md.

He remembers standing up after one of the beatings and came nose-to-nose with a guard who had a smile on his

"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 1967.

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 — 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
late1950s and now works in the Alabama Department of Corrections. "This may not be the only place they ever
buried them."

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."