Captain Philip A. Savill
Re: A Christmas Story – Who was smoking!
A story of the “White-House”…………..
Florida School for Boys @ Marianna Florida
They called them “licks”……………..
First you heard a wisp in the air………
Then you heard a swish on the wall……..
Then you felt a thud penetrate your flesh…….
I had only on Pajamas
It was a Christmas Eve night…….
All 60 of my classmates had gone to bed
I don’t remember exactly………I was either 13 or 14 years old……….
I do know it was after 10:00 p.m. because I saw the night watchman’s flash light shine through the window twice, and
he does that every hour starting at 8:00 p.m. I was laying awake, thinking of how in just a few hours my brothers,
Arthur, Albert, and Freddie, my sisters Dale and Hope and Mom and Dad would be opening presents around the
Christmas tree in the living room. We always had a beautiful tree, Mom was always very sure of that. She loved
Christmas, making things and baking things. Everything was so pretty at that time of year!
After saying good night to my family, I turned over and hugged my pillow, I remember the feelings of being sad and
lonely, but there was nothing I could do about it. I was a bad boy, a juvenile delinquent. I liked staying out at night,
with my older friend Jonnie G. and literally “playing hooky”, going fishing in Tampa Bay instead of to school. After a
while, the police got tired of brining me home at night for walking the streets, and the principal of the school
reporting my absentee ship to the juvenile authorities. The court said I was “an en-courage-able” and committed me
to the Florida School for Boys at Marianna Florida.
The normal stay they was nine (9) months, being “an encourage-able I was there over eighteen months; I couldn’t
graduate out of the rank of “grub” because I didn’t tell (puke/snitch) on the other boys for misbehaving, smoking or
getting extra food.
Being there a long time had its’ perks, I could be on the football team. Matter of fact, as you can see from the
attached articles, I was the only “juvenile delinquent” to ever make “the Real High School “All-Conference” football
team. I had a great coach; he was 1st string at FSU and played for the Green-Bay Packers. He also was my friend
and mentor. We stayed in touch for years.
Also because I had been there so long, familiar with the surroundings, the dormitory, etc., I was made dormitory
supervisor. I got a 12” higher bed than the rest of the kids. Up until this Christmas Eve, I thought my responsibility
simply meant that the “new kids” would come over to the ‘higher bed” and ask me to show them where the bathroom
was but how sadly mistaken I was.
50 years later as I reflect, this Christmas my like would change my life would change for ever, my boy-hood, my
dreams would be brutally taken from me. I don’t know what I would of become without this night, but as the tears
stream down my face, I can’t help but wonder what I would of become, if not for this night………………. A very
strong hard kick came to leg of my bed, spun my bed and instantly awoke me, at that same moment bright overhead
lights came; two large men were standing over my bed, screaming loudly and madly; “Saville”, who was smoking, I
shoke my head and asked “what!, they kicked the bed again, grabbed me by both of my arms, dragged me out of
the dormitory, down the back hall into the reception room and through me into a chair.
Mr. Ingram, the cottage father was standing in the background.
I was in Wilson Cottage; it was the Safari cottage, there were real stuffed animal heads from several African wildlife
species hanging on all the walls. One man is holding my head back with the hair of my head, the other over me
yelling, “you tell me NOW, who was smoking” his teeth showing just like the animal heads. I tried to get up and he
pulled tight on my hair and slammed the back of my head against the wall………Very angry and loudly yelling, “you
are going to tell us who was smoking”………I stated I don’t know……and he yelled louder, “This is the last time I am
going to ask you who was smoking in the dormitory? I replied, I was asleep, I don’t know, He put his finger in my face
and said, “we are going to see about that”!
With that they walked across the room to the telephone on the desk. They were talking very quietly on the phone, so
I could not hear what was being said. They hung up the phone, walked over to the windows and waited. Neither one
saying anything, just looking out the window.
I was thinking they must of called for their night time watchman supervisor.
A few minutes later I heard a car put up on the side of the building. The men walked to unlock the back down. There
were in the back hall talking for several minutes and then walks in Mt. Tidwell. He has one arm, he was wearing his
regular white long sleeve shirt, he had his glasses on and as he is walking from across the room toward me……he
stops, tells the two men following him, “I’ll take it from here!”
I had no idea what he was going to say or do. I only know that he is a mean man, they say he is this way because he
lost his arm. In my entire stay, I have only seen him, never spoken to him.
He says, hi Philip, we have a problem, smoking in the dormitory is dangerous and I need to know the boy, or the
boys that were doing that! I said Mr. Tidwell, I was asleep and did not see anybody smoking. He turned around,
signed for Mr. Ingram and they walked away, down the hall into the dormitory.
I thought to myself good, he is going to go find out who it was. He comes back in a few minutes and says, “nobody is
saying anything, and Mr. Ingram tells me that in the past you have been uncooperative about telling him about what
goes on, I guess that leaves it up to you and to me Philip”. He says, stand up, and come with me.
As I stood up barefooted walking with him to I felt the cold in the tile floor, as the back door opened, the cold was
colder. He stopped on outside steps waiting for Mr. Ingram; they both grabbed an arm and escorted me to the car. It
was the baby blue (2 door) Ford “state car”. Mr. Tidwell opened the door, pulled the seat back forward and Mr.
Ingram pushed me to get in the back.
I was very worried, very scared and very cold. I did not want to think.
The car started, and Mr. Tidwell drove toward the kitchen. I knew at that moment I was going to make my first visit to
the “white house”. As we drove up, there was another “state car” there, the door was open. A giant fear and
trembling came over my body. I had seen the “white house” a hundred times, heard the horror stories, seen the
after math of the black and blues, badly swollen welts and the cuts and the brusies of boys beaten, we shared the
same shower lines.
As I got out of the back seat of the car, the other man, known to me as Mr Williams, got behind me and pushed in
the direction of the door. As we entered, I looked to my left and there was the bed with the marks of straps on walls.
They sat me down, on the side of the bed asked who was smoking, I said I didn’t know, (When sitting, I saw the strap
he was holding, it was made of leather, sowed together about ½” thick, 2’ long that tied into a wood handle on each
side of the strap, I knew it was the strap because of how worn the leather it was) Mr. Tidwell said, “lay down on the
bed, grab the bar and put your face to the wall. The pillow and the thin mattress to face smelled terrible. A big loud
fan was turned on. Now the cold set into my skin and bones. I was terrified and then the first “lick” came. It came with
such a thud that it shook my entire body, the next came and the burn and hurt like I have never felt, it forced me turn
my face into the pillow.
Mr. Tidwell asked, “who was smoking”, I didn’t raise my head up off the pillow, I shook my head no and muttered I
didn’t know, I could here the wisp of the strap as it came in the air and then the “swish as it hit the wall” and then the
noise of the thud and unbelievable pain that followed, and then again the wisp, the swish, the thud, the pain, and
then again the wisp, the swish, the thud and the unbelievable pain
At 10 he stopped ad asked whom was smoking,
I raised my head this time and screamed, “I don’t know”………
Quickly the next hit came, and
At 20 he asked again
I was weak, bitting into my lip, and deeply crying, I shook my head no……….
At 30 he asked again
By now, all could do was barely hold onto the bed, my arms could no longer tense up and wait for the hit, and I cried
knowing no one would hear.
I did not answer………I did not shake my head……..
Then he started again
At 40 he stopped again, and asked……..
I lifted my head
Looked at the light green dirty wall in front of me and sank my head back down into the pillow, I could feel the
warmth of the blood flowing down the sides of my leg………..
At 44 he stopped, I waited for #45…..I heard the door open, the fan turn off and then Mr. Tidwell said, maybe you
don’t know, get up………….
As I lifted my body, my lower half did not respond………..I fell back down and rolled myself, knees first to the floor. I
pushed with all my strength in my arms and rose to my feet. I could not take a big step and I held the door frame as I
stepped down to the ground.
I went face first into backseat of the car, dragging my leg behind me.
How I got into the dormitory or how I found my way to my bed I will never know. I remember, softly quietly crying
myself to sleep.
I was woken up by a couple of the guys saying Merry Christmas, are you OK? I realized then the swelling in my
buddock and back of my legs, both when I touched them felt like charcoal, hard and rough. We have to make our
beds, I couldn’t………..my sheets were full of blood.
I went to my locker to put on my cloths, I couldn’t get my pajama bottoms off, they were melted into the cuts and
dried blood of my leg and backside. I could not sit down on the bench because of the pain and swelling so I laid face
first on the cold wooden shower bench.
I don’t remember the man’s name and I don’t think it was Mr. Ingram, but some one instructed me to go into the
shower, get my pajamas wet and peel them off. The only thing I remember is how cold the water was.
I went outside to warm myself with the morning sun. My entire body was cold and shivering; I welcomed that feeling
for it took away from the pain.
As I was leaning against the big pine tree, beside the red clay basketball court, Bob Hammond, a very good friend of
mine from the football team came up to me and said, “I don’t know if you know it or not but I was the one that was
smoking”. I said, “I did not know, but for sure they thought I did and even if I knew, with you going home on the 9th of
January, I probably wouldn’t of told………..but I’m glad I did not know, it made it easier not to have to make that
Bob said, “I heard Mr. Tidwell got you”, I replied, “yes, he beat me badly, 44 “licks”.
I did not know it at that moment, but Bob Greer, a puke/snitch was walking by behind me and he heard me tell Bob
how many “licks” I got. It is a cardinal rule, especially in Wilson Cottage that you are not allowed to tell anybody how
many “licks” you got or you get the same amount again.
So Bob Greer living up to his name and reputation went and told Mr. Ingram that I hold to Bob Hammond I had got
At sundown on that Christmas Day the state car rolled back up to Wilson Cottage, loaded me up and took me back
down to the White House, I don’t remember everything that went on, I was numb……..I do know I got beat again,
very, very severely, so much that I passed out………..
And the next thing I remember is waking up in a cold dark hole, called solitary confinement in Pierce Cottage, up on
the hill; they call it the “whispering pines”. The rooms are 5’ x 8’, there is a steel door and no windows. The water
was turned on and turned off as they decided and the food was served through a hole in the door. You had no
outside contact and no light. Except for the meals I had no exact way of knowing how many days I spent there. The
best I can figure it was 38 or 39.
When I finally got taken out, I could rub the skin off my arms from the moisture that loomed in the cell.
The only thing that saved me from complete insanity was a broken pencil and 2 pages of a Readers Digest that
someone previously to me had stuffed in a crack near the backside of the door.
said good night to my fame