Our Opinion: Memories of state abuse can't be erased
October 23, 2008

In the 1950s and '60s, the Florida State Reform School in Marianna, where many young male offenders wound up,
had a notorious reputation. Backyard scuttlebutt, especially among teenagers, is often wildly exaggerated, so the
tales of terrible beatings were easily dismissed. After all, they came from young men whose credibility was unreliable
to begin with.

They weren't exaggerating.

In an emotional ceremony Tuesday on the grounds of the institution now known as the Arthur G. Dozier School for
Boys, the Department of Juvenile Justice, which oversees the facility, acknowledged the horrific abuse.

State officials invited five men — they call themselves the "White House Boys" after the whitewashed cinderblock
building where they were mercilessly beaten — to attend a two-hour ceremony at which they were allowed to make
uncensored statements about their experiences. Healing was the goal.

Mike McCarthy, 65, recalled "blood spattered all over the walls."

Associated Press reporter Brendan Farrington covered the event. He described "a dark room barely big enough to fit
the bed (Mike McCarthy) and other children lay in while they were beaten so badly he said some had to have
underwear surgically removed."

Roger Kiser, 62, was sent to the reform school after running away from an orphanage in Jacksonville where he was
being molested. He said when he got to Marianna, he realized he was better off at the orphanage. The Associated
Press picks up his account.

"When I walked out of this building ... when I looked in the mirror, I couldn't tell who I was, I was so bloodied. From that
day forward, I've never forgotten what rotten SOBs the human being can be.

"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 the building across from the White House, the victims said, was what they called the rape room.

"They were monsters," 62-year-old Robert Straley of Clearwater said of the state employees who abused him. "Oh
my God, the things they did."

After all five men spoke, Gus Barreiro, a former lawmaker who now oversees DJJ's residential programs, unveiled a
plaque outside the White House.

"In memory of the children who passed through these doors, we acknowledge their tribulations and offer our hope
that they found some measure of peace. May this building stand as a reminder of the need to remain vigilant in
protecting our children as we help them seek a brighter future."

It is rare for a government agency to acknowledge even errors of policy, but more rare to acknowledge such dire
human behavior stemming from judgments that one can only assume started from the top. This week's
acknowledgment improves the credibility of DJJ, of course, and the public can only hope that such horrors are now
truly part of the past.