RETURN TO THE WHITE HOUSE

LOOKING FOR WOODY - FINDING ME
Michael O’McCarthy
02-2009

During the October 1, 2008 memorial hosted for the “White House Boys” by Florida’s
Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) at what is now named “The Dozier School for Boys,” I had
arranged for us to re-enter the building where we were beaten and tortured. Afterwards, each of
us had finished our statements to the press, the attendees from DJJ and us walked into the den
they called The White House.  It was the first time since my “Visit to the White House,” (1) in
1958 when I, fifteen years old, was beaten into a coma like state.

I came back to that den of horror looking for the part of me I felt missing in my life since that time
on. I knew that they had done something to me that I did not understand but I knew had
irrevocably changed me from the boy I was when committed for juvenile delinquent acts, and the
person I became after my beating in the White House.

That is why when I entered that now bare building I immediately began touching the walls. As if
“walls could speak” perhaps in Braille I would understand. But there was nothing that affected
me. There were just the cold white washed walls and hard worn cement. The small rectangle
windows high up gave the rooms what little light there was.

When I was taken to the White House to be beaten it was late evening and my memory was of a
black night that oozed of swamps, the slithering trail of cotton mouthed vipers and the putrid
stench arising from the farm fields that surrounded the compound. The fetid, fecund aroma of a
summer farm gave off life and death and feces; varying forms that had fertilized those grounds
for so long as humans had occupied them. These were the inescapable haunts the Statemen
warned us of should we “run away” from what we prisoners just called Marianna.  But on that
day in October, 2008 the air was cold and I could smell nothing coming from the swamps and
farms.  In that morning, in that decade’s old den, I smelled and at first, felt nothing.  I moved
along the walls of the hallway, or leaned looking into cells that had certainly been solitary -
disciplinary, maximum, isolation security cells at one time.  

The men mounted with cameras came in with me and one other victim. Then came the
remainder of the four of us White House Boys and our newest survivor. Our every move
captured in the lens as we edged on our grim parade; some of us staggered and then moved
and then halted, touching the white washed walls trying to find something of ourselves and the
others tortured in that dead place. The place kept its secrets as if ordered by the men who had
beaten and tortured us.

The patient camera men were waiting for us, any of us, to react as if the torture we individually
and collectively were burdened with every day of our lives would suddenly take material form
and we would succumb to the terror as we were forced to decades before.
Would we scream the screams and bleed from the perforation on our asses and anuses, our
skin would once again be ripped from our backs and thighs revealing skinless sinew, vessels
and muscle? I knew that any physical demonstration of the shrieking crimson torture would be
immediately gratifying to the camera.  

But I had not gone in there to relive the terrorism bludgeoned into me. I knew all about the
instrument they used on me; on us. No, I went in the White House because I thought I would find
peace in my return to that place.

As I moved through the building I saw nothing and felt nothing of what had come out of me when
I first began to deal with my beating in the White House months before. Then I would overcome
by sobbing and racking images of that night.  And though I did not know then that I was looking
for him, Woody was not there either.

I went in the empty room known as the “colored boy’s room.” I went there first because someone
was already in the “white boy’s room,” with a cameraman capturing him. I wanted to be alone
among them and I wanted to start where the Statemen had once started: in the “colored boys
room” where the white beasts beat black boys and had us white boys sit waiting to be beat in
the room across the hallway.  

In that “colored boy’s room” these petty white patriarchs vented their psychopathology of racism
on one black boy after another after another on that plantation of coercion and pain … they did
so believing that they would never, ever meet justice. I knew this of these men for these bastard
Euro-Americans were kin to me; they could have been my uncle, father and grandfather for I
was born southern and mostly “white,” and with that came an inheritance, as sure as a
bloodline, of white privilege and its attendant racism.

What I came to feel in that room was the kind of anger that had simmered just below my
demeanor for decades. An anger that went from ire to rage, uncontrollable rage.
My passivity in my awareness of it was also deliberate: I had promised the state officials with
whom I had negotiated this memorial event that this return to the White House would not be
used as a personal moment to reap revenge on the attendants.

So finally I knew that I had to leave that room or kill someone, anyone who was party to the now
modern monster that was “Dozier School for Boys,” named after the man who had been
superintendant when I was held prisoner there; a man who both knew of and participated in the
beatings and torture of that place. This personalization of this prison for kids was but a disguise
for yet another institution in the prison-industrial complex that uses our society’s failures and
members of the nation’s oppressed ethnic minorities as fodder. They dressed up its horror by
dressing up its employees as normal looking civilians. It was they who along with the press bore
witness to the madness inflicted upon us.

The anger arose from what they had done to us in that building of torture; at the duplicity of
their mandate and their barbaric treatment of us; the knowledge that every day the poor, the
oppressed and those of color would become victims of places like Dozier, never receiving either
the education or the treatment necessary to prepare them for a decent life outside those walls.  
And all the tears that had been shed, the look of shock on the faces of the civilians who heard
our stories during the preceding press statements were those of employees deeply vested in
the machine that ate humans for profit.

I entered into the white boy’s room where they beat me looking for that something that would
finally give me the key to my pain. Perhaps make me whole again.  I was looking for the source
of that very tangible terrible suffering pain I carried with me and I felt absolutely nothing of its
existence. It’s as if they had sanitized all sense memory in that torture cell.

I touched the wall as I walked around that room in which these beasts invoked their God of
retribution and salvation as their Old White Bearded Father had taught them in their missionary
message. Those men were not guardians nor care givers: those men were mad with the power
in their male station; justified in their “fire and brimstone” righteous and anger and felt no guilt
whatsoever in causing a child anguish that is beyond imagination. These are men who know
they will ruin a good dog by beaten it into submission and subservience. They did not think of
children in the same light for our evil, all our evils were of another force: that of the Holy Bible’s
Devil.

Thus, the inconceivable destruction of the child in me had become my secret; this terrible pain
tattooed into my psyche just as surely as if they had driven ten penny nails into my palms and
left me to hang until I found salvation … or were eaten by their cousin carrions. Only those who
had been victim of that White House could understand the kind of madness that it produced in
each of us.

But in that building I could find nothing tangible. I could find only the pain and its companion,
anger in my return Visit to the White House.

It would be months later that I finally knew why I felt nothing more while in that split moment in
time when I was back in that den. I did not know what or who I was looking for. Only that it was
not there. No, Woody was not there.

The pain continued and seemed to rise even higher in my consciousness as I traveled days and
miles from that place. Then it came one day as I crawled through the layers of my pain. That is
when I knew that I was looking for Woody.

I didn’t even know his last name. When the three of us ran we just called him Woody. When one
of us left us for his home in Panama City it became just two lone boys running from Hell and our
only true bond was being fugitive, lowly subjects to those white masters. We both ran into the
night dressed in our cotton white thin boxer shorts and tee-shirts.  In our lack of dress we were
odd creatures that were joined in days of fearing capture. For we knew what to expect; we’d
seen the black skinned asses of the boy who’d been “taken down” to the White House.
Even seeing that, hearing the tales of the boys who had gone down, could not prepare us for
what we would experience in the White House. Only being the witness to or the victim of that
kind of violence teaches you that men can be monsters. I realize today as I look back, that the
real horror was the fact that these men were not artificially conceived monsters; they were quite
simply just men:

They took me first and The Director beat me and beat me and beat me as I have written before;
(*) with a rank pillow in mouth, a slime dried mattress-cover below me and he beat me more than
I can remember. Yet as much as was that tactile pain, I cannot remember the penetrating
physical torture. I cannot remember that kind of agony past the first ten or so lashes.
I remember the impact of the weapon, the way it drove me and the mattress and the used
springs tied to metal slats flat against the floor; then coming back up when his practiced arm
was timed to compound the thrust of his lash and the terribleness of the shot gun sound of the
impact, “Ka Pow” engulfed your whole being. And I know I cried out in anguish for it was unlike
any pain I had ever suffered and there was nothing I could do to diminish it. Tightening my ass,
loosening my ass, my lower back, the back of my thighs, no, nothing diminished the agony.  I
remember that.

The awareness of that penetrating physical pain was stuck away somewhere deep inside me to
save my sanity. There was another part of me though that was outside of that torture, that which
he could not touch with that strap. Even when he was finished with me and I came back to
consciousness and I was forced to look down at my bloodied boxers and at the sight of my blood
running down the inside of my legs they had still not touched that hidden place.

Having grown up in an alcoholic home; with parents who were victims of child abuse and
alcoholism and were alcoholics themselves, physical pain was never my worst fear. I heard live
shot guns go off in my dreams before. My worst fear was the terrible emotional fear that comes
from a violent, irrational force. It was that violent irrational force coming from my stepfather that
paralyzed me. He was a man who had himself been beaten with a poker iron as punishment by
his stepmother and as is as so often the rule, morphed his victimization into perpetrator.  His
physical strength was so overwhelming coupled with this rage that I always feared the rage far
more than the harsh, violent whippings he gave me with a leather belt.

I grew up believing this rage and physical brutality to be the norm in any working class family,
even though I experienced another kind of civility in the homes of passing friends. And all my
life, whether I knew it or not, I longed for that normalcy.

But my still child’s mind would not allow me to believe that anybody would do what the men at
Marianna did to Woody and me.  I still did not understand the murder of Native Americans nor of
the Africans.

I wept and felt my skin on fire and tearing with every step I took as I was ordered out into the
dark hallway where they had me stand not a foot away from the door to the White Boys’ room
while they beat Woody. And there I broke down: those men were acting as monsters and were
doing exactly what they had done to me; that which my child’s mind didn’t want to believe, or
accept.

And these raw boned cracker masters beat him, and beat him, and beat him until his screams
infused with the blood hitting the walls. His yells for mercy caused those men to beat him all the
more and what they brought out of his body must have pitted that cold burial wall. What they did
in that dungeon made me a witness - a visceral participant, in their torture of him. And, all I
could do was sob.

And what they were doing to him reached right though my skin and into that place where my
kind and glorious child once sang “You Are My Sunshine,” and “This Little Light of Mine, I’m
Gonna Let It Shine.” They reached right down to that inner child and that child ran and ran and
ran but could not get away from the sound of that strap exploding on Woody and Woody’s
screams.  That “little light of mine” dimmed until it could barely be seen and then only as a faint
symbol of hope. The single flicker flame that survived became the balancing factor in keeping
my hope alive for surely had it died I would have gone insane and become the true psychopath I
was being conditioned to become.

But that night I could no long stand or fight or run away again and thus, they made me an
accessory to their torture of him, and I did nothing to stop them.

I have finally come to understand what happened to that child in the White House. The child who
still believed in hope and good things despite the violent, alcoholic rages between mother and
stepfather. Because I could not accept that they had beat me, I inhaled Woody’s retched agony  
into me and I had to know at that moment that those men,  mortal men, were truly evil in the
service of a most corrupt and perverted God.  And what they were doing to us children was the
true blasphemy in killing off all that was good and hopeful in our futures. I know this now for in
my time the world is ruled by these men of greed, barbarism and no good will be forthcoming
after this.

It was thus sometime after my journey back from that return trip to White House that the severity
of why I could not find peace came to me. What I had not found was that part of Woody’s torture
that is buried in me and I could not yet accept the pain of my own torture in that horrible place.
And in that absence I could not say as one brother to another, “I’m sorry they did this to you,
Woody.” After all these years, the conditioning that lead to the boy on his knees out in the hall
still blamed himself: that there was some fault of my own that brought about my beating and
most certainly my fault that I did nothing to stop Woody’s beating.  I still do not know how to let
that go.

I finally came to understand my seemingly pointless paroxysms of weeping: for all I could do
back then was to scream to drown out that horrible brutal black instrument of a roaring fan that
ate our screams; I screamed to shut out the sound of that strap’s explosive, ricocheting impact
on Woody’s body as it struck against the white cement walls and erupted against my eardrums;
the howl of his mutilation roaring out of his mouth; at the skin ripping off his body and staining
and then meshing into his thin cotton white boxer shorts.

Child that I was I was unable to process my own pain and fear, and all of Woody’s became mine.
But I had no name for it and it forever came to me at the mere thought of that place.  Later when
I joined others in the terrible reminiscence of those hours; of that first moment when we all
talked of how we victims were forced to pull down our shorts and face our bloody, skin spotted
underwear, did the atrociousness of their acts effect me. It was as if I had been knocked
backwards into the butchered remains of a slaughter pit. And it was in that collective visitation to
those other victim’s torture that I found the Woody in me that I remembered: I screamed inside
as if I could smell the blood splattering with each new stroke and I was sucked into the black air
that had taken over my being...

For there came the time when I heard Woody rise up from that filth of a cot.

He screamed “no more, please no more. Please God, no more.”

But those men were now intoxicated with their taste for pain; they thrived upon more blood being
splattered for they believed no one but them and us child slaves would ever know of this place.
Thus, they could do in the absence of witnesses, as all masters of domestic violence do, carry
out every perverted act of violence their minds could conjure up …

…and Woody cried more and the more his screams fed them.

I heard them grappling with him as he cried and pleaded for human mercy.

“Jesus motherfucking god,” could I have stood and killed them. But I could not for that part of me
had already been cowed in my worst moments of paralyzing fear before my stepfather’s
homicidal/suicidal rages. No anger, no rage came to drive away the fear of those beasts and I
could do nothing for Woody. May my spirit forgive me some day. May I forgive me some day.
And there was no mercy forthcoming from these masters of children.  It was those men who
spurred metal into the sides of horses, killed bulls in the ring with pomp and flair, massacred
men of different color and took their scalps, ears, penises as souvenirs; as these yeoman of the
South had whipped mules and dogs and their chattel wives and children unsatisfactorily, these
men could beat us dead and have no one to answer to.

I have been told that the bodies of the “disappeared” went into the planted farm fields or the
black Chipola River. I do not know that. Often when asked what had happened to a specific boy,
the Statemen said that the boy had just run away and never was caught.   

The overwhelming truth of their horrendous beating of us, or what killing they did, does not tell
of their greatest crime.

These empty hulks of men were serial killers of children’s spirit and when finished with us would
leave nothing of our childhood.

Their crime against us was not the physical inhumane cruelty: it was that they tore into us, and
ripped us apart so badly that they severed us from our child’s natural empathy and intimacy.
The beating to death of those children’s feelings would program many of us to the doomsday
cells of their prisons and lunatic asylums and if there was mercy, turn us into suicides.
In the end I can tell you the worst of this: I screamed for Woody because I could not cry for
myself. I was this lost and bewildered child who felt impaired; that some great flaw in me kept me
from being good enough, worthy enough. Even in my brightest spiritual moments, those which
make children the rich and benevolent and hopeful force on this planet, I had doubts.
Something was wrong with me and I could not find out what it was.

I turned to their new psychologist in hopes of finding a way to be a better person and to free
myself from the pain and bewilderment I carried with me. I was confronted by a sexual vampire
named Dr. Curry. And before I realized his nature I poured out the terrible fears I had of myself.
As I did he circled me like a vulture, his crude, humped body cruising me as he sucked on his
pipe, his predatory eyes sucking sex from me as surely as he would were if his next victim:
“Do you like sex,” he asked? “Do you fantasize about sex,” he asked? There was saliva on his
lower protruding lip as he sucked.

“Do you think about sex with other boys? You had sex with a girl. That is one of the reasons you
are here, statutory rape you know,” he drooled.

I repelled from that creepy, slithering monster and went on alone feigning my new guise as one
walking in the footsteps of their Jesus. The Jesus who loved little children had been crucified in
that cell.

As I have written, they placed me just outside the White Boys Room in that cold horrible corridor
where I heard every word and listened to every scream and heard, I swear, that child’s blood
hitting the walls … and in that Godless place where they beat me first and then Woody, through
all that cement and steel his agony of his tortured soul entered me. And when they momentarily
stopped lashing him and the Director asked me why I was making all that noise, I told him I was
“praying for Jesus to forgive me.”  Though raised among their religious culture, I have no idea
where that phrase came from. But from that moment on I knew that the key to open their prison
was the code phrase, “I love Jesus, amen.”

They cautioned the loudness of my prayer and quickly went back to beating Woody.  And
despite the momentary respite Woody screamed all the more. I have never been whole or at
peace since.

There is no longer a hole where my soul once lived, but there is a place once ripped open, the
wound cauterized by the merciless of those beasts, those men. It is a place close to the essence
of me that is inhabited by every moment of my empathy for Woody’s pain and screams for
mercy and I fear that I will never trust anyone again. I will never know love fully for I am not
healed and fear rules over intimacy and I know of no physician or God missionary capable of
the miracle that would heal me.

Yet I love my mate - my comrade Jennifer - whose righteous need for love and intimacy at times
repulses me for reasons easily given by the therapists:  that I do not value myself enough to
accept being loved as completely as she loves me. That her need for sexual intimacy scares me
and that I am only capable of objectifying the love-sex process in order to be sufficiently
aroused and engaged.

She tells me that she understands; she too is a survivor of domestic violence, of the same rage,
the same social license given men. What she asks for and that which I have pledged is my
loyalty to her and to our family. That is the best I can do today. That is enough for her today
and that is a miracle unto itself.

Leaving the factor of my age aside, these questions have not been answered for lying over the
top of any psychoanalytic process is the horror of Marianna and the White House and whatever
it was that happened to that 15 year old child.  

I think that the complicated consequence of my teenage and adult tortured experiences prevent
me from getting to the answers I need to at least expose the causes of my resistance to the
personal change I want to make. This is so concretized in my person that I can’t get to those
torturous episodes:

Was it my mother who kidnapped me from my ancestral home where I was Prince to my
southern grandparents and aunt and uncle before they had my cousin? Was it the
overwhelming sense that she was abandoning me when she left me to be cared for with friends
of hers, strangers to me? Was it the readjustment that I never made when she brought in my
stepfather who could not show the kind of love I was accustomed to with my grandparents? My
stepfather was a man driven by the demons given him by his alcoholic coalmining father and
child beating stepmother; a man whom men called Hero for his combat in WWII’s South Pacific; a
man from Scranton, Pa who men came miles around to fight from such was his reputation for
rage and violence? He was a physical force that terrified me as if one could merge John Wayne
and Robert Mitchum into one character and have him burst into your soft-southern child’s life.
I suggest that the amalgamation of those forces invading the boy I was, created the man I am
today. That it is not that I am alcoholic, it is the kind of alcoholic I became as a result of those
experiences and my unwillingness or incapacity to deal with all that those experiences
compounded.  

But what I do know is that something happened in the White House as the result of that beating
and the forced witnessing of the beating of Woody that changed me forever.

And today there is no fear of that violence; no fear of the consequences. It is only some force of
restraint that keeps me from killing. For so long as the answer of me does not come I fear the
rage remains.  It is the product of that torture.  I fear it waits like a chained, frenzied
uncontrollable beast to be released. I fear that were I the man I am today on that Southern
evening in the presence of my torturers, there would be no restraint, I would fight back. I would
tear out their voices to deprive them of the release of their screams, tear open their boney pale
chests, and pulling out their hearts make them watch as I hammer those blood red organs into
flattened country steaks that I would then make their kin fry up and cover with their fucking pan
gravy and eat at their after church Sunday dinner.

But I am not a monster, just a man who longs to live in peace. I long to hug Woody and say
“sorry brother” and at last am gone from the White House.

I don’t know if I will ever change until he forgives me and in effect I forgive myself … and that
may never happen and he may never find my passive witness to his torture as anything  more
than, “that’s what happened and there was nothing you could have done to stop them.”  I long
for the time I can see that.  There is in me the wish I could have been strong enough to have
killed the Director, Hatton and his accomplice Dickson, but I cannot tell you that given the
opportunity today, I would do that. The person I am today has been civilized enough to want
them at the dock and make their peers sentence them as is fit.

At last I think of Caryl Chessman’s last letter sent to Mary Crawford of the San Francisco News
Call Bulletin, the one he finished in the Death Cell adjacent to the gas chamber some 49 years
ago just before the state of California murdered him in which he described those of us that
become fodder for this corrections monster we have allowed the politicians and the bureaucrats
to create. The monster that awaits all the victims of the White House from which will be safe only
in death:    

“My background as a violent young psychopath, (putting to one side my guilt or innocence of
the Red Light Bandit crimes for which I wait to die,) is well known. Punishment didn’t control me;
it didn’t cure me; it didn’t relieve the pressures.

“I might have spent this, my last night on earth, cursing my plight and society. I didn’t.  Instead,
even though I realized no matter what I wrote or didn’t write my fate would remain unchanged, I
put these pressures, these tensions to work. They will permit me to walk into the gas chamber
and, paradoxically, die calmly. For I have learned the hard, the lethal way to put them to work. I
earnestly submit my society can learn to teach those thousands of youngsters following in my
footsteps to do the same in a much easier way, provided only it is willing to call upon its reason
and its humanity rather than its executioners and its desire to punish, punish, punish.” (*)

(*) Excerpted from my novel THE LAST 17 HOURS, original published by NoSpine, London,
England. All rights reserved.)