Dozier school for boys
On our train ride today we are heading to sunny Florida. This is much more than a "Florida man" story. This is a crazy story of one of the worst boys schools ever to exist. There were many of these return schools around the country but this place has a reputation as one of the worst. It's been known by several names over the years but most people know it as the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys . We're gonna talk about the history and atrocities that happened at this school that opened January 1, 1900 and just closed on June 30, 2011. A 111 year reign of terror! Here we go!
The school was located in Marianna Florida and covered 1400 acres. A second campus was opened in the town of Okeechobee in 1955. The school was first organized under an 1897 act of the legislature and began operations on the Marianna campus on January 1, 1900, as the Florida State Reform School. It was overseen by five commissioners appointed by the governor William Dunnington Bloxham, who were to operate the school and make biennial reports to the legislature. Some time thereafter, the commissioners were replaced by the governor and cabinet of Florida, acting as the Board of Commissioners of State Institutions. In 1914, the name was changed to the Florida Industrial School for Boys and in 1957 to the Florida School for Boys. In 1955, the Okeechobee campus opened. In 1967, the name of the Marianna campus was changed to the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys, in honor of a former superintendent of the school.The Marianna site was originally divided into north and south sides. South side was known as "Number 1" and was for white students only, while the North side was"number 2" and for black students only. The school remained segregated until 1966. Boot Hill cemetery was located on the north side. In 1929, an 11-room concrete block detention building, also containing two cells (one for white, and one for black students), was constructed to house incorrigible or violent students, the site at the time not being fenced. Students called it "The White House". In the 1950s and 1960s, it was the site of most beatings of students. After corporal punishment at the school was abolished in 1967, the building was used for storage. Shortly before the facility was closed, Dozier was a fenced, 159-acre "high-risk" residential facility for 104 boys aged 13 to 21 who had been committed there by a court; their average length of stay at Dozier was nine to twelve months. They lived in several cottages, with each boy having an unlocked room.
In 1903 an inspection uncovered that children at the school were commonly kept in leg irons. After this the school was investigated 6 times in its first 13 years. In 1914 there was a fire in one of the dorms. The fire killed six students and two staff members. During the spanish flu epidemic in 1918 it was recorded that eleven students died but they were not named and documented in the recorded burials of the Boot Hill Cemetery. A 13 year old boy was sent there in 1934 and died 38 days later. There's no record of what caused his death. In 1968, Florida Governor Claude Kirk said, after a visit to the school where he found overcrowding and poor conditions, that "somebody should have blown the whistle a long time ago." At this time, the school housed 564 boys, some for offenses as minor as school truancy, running away from home, or "incorrigibility", including cigarette smoking. They ranged in age from ten to sixteen years old. The White House was closed in 1967. Officially, corporal punishment at the school was banned in August 1968.
In 1969, as part of a governmental reorganization, the school came under the management of the Division of Youth Services of the newly created Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services. There were 81 school-related deaths of students from 1911 to 1973. Thirty-one of these boys were said to be buried on the school grounds, with other bodies "shipped home to families or buried in unknown locations." There are 31 simple crosses as grave markers at the cemetery, installed in the 1960s and 1990s, but they have been found not to correspond to specific burials.
An inspection done in 1982 revealed that boys were hogtied and kept in isolation for weeks at a time! A lawsuit was filed by the ACLU over this issue and several other issues at this facility and three other juvenile facilities in Florida. At this point the school was housing 105 students aged 13-21. In 1985, the media reported that young ex-students of the school, sentenced to jail terms for crimes committed at Dozier, had subsequently been the victims of torture by guards at the Jackson County jail. The teens were usually hanged but handcuffs to the bars of their cells usually for an hour at a time. The guards said that this practice was approved by their superiors.
In 1994, the school was placed under the management of the newly created Florida Department of Juvenile Justice, which operated the school until its closure in 2011. By this time, the school had facilities to house 135 inmates. Many of the boys sent there had been convicted of rape or of committing "lewd acts on other children". On September 16, 1998, a resident of the school lost his right arm in a washing machine. A lawsuit was filed against the institution and the plaintiff was awarded an undisclosed amount in 2003.
In April 2007, the acting superintendent of the school and one other employee were fired following allegations of abuse of inmates. The state officially acknowledged that abuses had taken place there; the White House Boys, a growing group of adult survivors who had been held there in the 1950s and 1960s, were speaking out to the press. In October 2008, several of them attended a ceremony to install a historic plaque at the White House that acknowledged that past. The news was carried nationwide.
In late 2009, the school failed its annual inspection. Among other problems, the inspection found that the school failed to deal properly with the numerous complaints by the boys held there, including allegations of continued mistreatment by the guards. State Representative Darryl Rouson said the system was struggling to move on from a longstanding "culture of violence and abuse".
The U.S. Department of Justice conducted a survey of 195 US facilities, including the Florida School For Boys. According to its 2010 report, 11.3% of boys surveyed at the school reported that they had been subject to sexual abuse by staff using force in the last twelve months, and 10.3% reported that they had been subject to it without the use of force. 2.2% reported sexual victimization by another inmate. DOJ said these percentages meant the home was deemed to have neither "high" nor "low" rates of sexual victimization compared with the other institutions assessed in the survey.
In July 2010, the state announced its plan to merge Dozier with JJOC, creating a single new facility, the North Florida Youth Development Center, with an open campus and a closed campus. However, the following year, claiming "budgetary limitations," the state decided to close both facilities on June 30, 2011. Remaining students were sent to other juvenile justice facilities around the state.
After Hurricane Michael, the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office was given the property, now known as ‘Endeavor’, to relocate from their damaged offices.
So there you have a condensed history of the school and the site. Now we're going to get into the crazy shit that went on there. First we have the story of Willy Haynes and his experience with the school and the infamous Whitehouse. The story comes from an incredible article from the Tampa Bay Times. In the late 1950s, a 13-year-old kid who slicked back his long hair like Elvis stood in front of a judge in Tampa. A car had been stolen from the neighborhood. Someone said they saw Willy Haynes driving it. Willy didn't know how to drive, but the judge didn't know that. Here was a boy who grew up in a little house off Columbus Avenue, in Six Mile Creek, a scrappy neighborhood on Tampa's eastern edge, where a poor kid learned early how to protect himself. When the judge warned the boy to behave or he'd be sent to reform school in Marianna, Willy surprised the court.
Why can't I go now?
He had heard the Florida School for Boys had a band and a football team and maybe even Boy Scouts, and it didn't cost a penny to participate. He kissed his mother goodbye at the courthouse and left Tampa in the back of a state cruiser. Big, beautiful, oblivious Florida blurred by outside the window. Willy wasn't scared as the state car pulled onto the gravel road that led to the state's only boys' juvenile reformatory, the Florida School for Boys.
No fences. Manicured lawns. Tall pines and stately buildings. It looked like college. It had to be better than home.
Inside, he signed a ledger.
William Haynes Jr.
April 11, 1958.
A boy escorted Willy Haynes to Tyler Cottage and told him to keep his belongings in Locker No. 252. He was given a toothbrush and pajamas and his own military bunk. The poor kid from Tampa felt like he was finally home.
He was there barely a week when it happened. Some bullies caught him outside the showers, and the next thing he knew he was in the middle of a tangle of feet and fists. Willy knew how to fight, and he was choking one of his attackers in a headlock when a cottage father busted in.
The school's disciplinarian, R.W. Hatton, asked Willy who he had been fighting, but the boy would not give up the names. Better to be punished than be branded a puke.
You're going down, Hatton told him.
They dragged him across that manicured campus, toward the squat concrete building called the White House. They dragged him through the door. Willy Haynes, who had asked the judge to send him here, who had wanted to throw a football under the pines. Over 18 months, the men dragged Willy into the White House again and again.
Lay down. Hold the rail. Don't make a sound.
He could hear the strap coming. It started with the pivot, the shuffle of boots on concrete. The strap hit the wall, then the ceiling, then thighs and buttocks and back, and it felt like an explosion. When he got back to the cottage, Willy stood in the shower and let the cold water wash bits of underwear from his lacerations, as his blood ran toward the drain.
Many others suffered the same horrors as Willy. As the boys grew up the memories stayed with them as they became men. Many sporting both physical and mental scars. Some of these men gathered at the Florida School for Boys on Oct. 21, 2008. Again from the Tampa Bay Times article:
"The last time they had stepped on this sprawling campus, they were fresh-faced punks with the world before them. Now their hair was gray and their faces sagged. Their backs ached from a night in motel beds. They carried pictures of children and grandchildren in their wallets.
Dick Colon had flown in from Baltimore, where he owns an electrical contracting company. The 65-year-old was tormented by the memory of seeing a boy being stuffed into an industrial dryer. Next to him stood Michael O'McCarthy, a writer and political activist from Costa Rica, who was beaten so badly he was treated at the school infirmary. To his left was Roger Kiser, a Chicken Soup for the Soul contributor who had driven down from Brunswick, Ga., bent on retribution. On the end was a quiet man named Robert Straley, who sells glow lights and carnival novelties. He drove up from Clearwater. He had been having recurring nightmares of a man sitting on his bed.
Then there was Willy Haynes. He was 65 and went by Bill now. A tall, broad man, Haynes had worked for 30 years for the Alabama Department of Corrections. Haynes didn't feel good. There were plenty of places he'd rather be. But he knew he had to do this."
The men now called themselves the White House Boys. According to the article The men remember the same things:
"blood on the walls, bits of lip or tongue on the pillow, the smell of urine and whiskey, the way the bed springs sang with each blow. The way they cried out for Jesus or mama. The grinding of the old fan that muffled their cries. The one-armed man who swung the strap. They remember walking into the dark little building on the campus of the Florida School for Boys, in bare feet and white pajamas, afraid they'd never walk out."
According the the men boys were dragged to the White House in ones and twos and threes, and sometimes there was a line outside, and sometimes a white dog kept watch."
The white house boys are former students who had been held at the school in the 1950s and 1960s began to share accounts of abuses that they had suffered or observed against students. By the early 2000s, there were about 400 members, survivors of this school from the 1950s and 1960s. Since the early 2000s, members of the group began to speak publicly about their experiences to the media, and to challenge the state to investigate practices and personnel at the school. More than 300 men have publicly recounted abuse and torture at the school. The survivors have had some internal struggles and set up more than one website.
In 2009, the Florida School for Boys was the subject of an extensive special report. Allegations focusing on the 1960s included claims that one room was used for whipping white boys and another for black boys. The whippings were carried out by guards using a 3-foot-long belt made of leather and metal and were so severe that the victim's underwear could become embedded in his skin. One former student said that he had seen a boy trapped in a running laundry dryer at the school and suspected the boy was killed. One former student stated he was punished in the White House eleven times, receiving a total of more than 250 lashes. Others alleged they were whipped until they lost consciousness and that the punishments were made harsher for boys who cried. Some alumni also stated there was a "rape room" at the school, where boys were sexually abused by guards. The complainants said some of the victims were as young as nine years old.
In February 2010, the White House Boys filed a class action suit for damages against the state government, but it was dismissed by a judge in Leon County, Florida, because the statute of limitations had run out for such a suit. A bill introduced in the 2012 session of the Florida Legislature to provide compensation to victims of abuse at the school failed to pass.
There have been many positions throughout the years but no real investigations until 2008. On December 9, 2008, Florida Governor Charlie Crist directed the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) to investigate the allegations of abuse, torture, and murder recounted by the White House Boys and their law firm. It took two years for the findings to be released.
The FDLE conducted more than one hundred interviews of former students, family members of former students, and former staff members of the school during the 15-month investigation, but no concrete evidence was found linking any of the student deaths to the actions of school staff, or that there had been attempts by staff to conceal deaths. None of the graves were opened during the investigation.(The investigation determined that the thirty-one graves at the facility had been dug between 1914 and 1952.)
A forensic examination of the "White House" was conducted. No trace evidence of blood on the walls was found. Some former Dozier students told investigators that they felt they had "needed the discipline." Troy Tidwell, who was a staff member at the school during that period, said that punishments in the White House were not excessive. He said staff used the leather strap because they were concerned that spankings with wooden paddles, as had previously taken place, might injure the boys.
Department of Justice, 2011
In its December 2011 report of its investigation at the Dozier School, the Civil Rights Division of the United States Department of Justice made the following findings about staff at the school, who were cited for use of excessive force, inappropriate isolation, and extension of confinement:
The youth confined at Dozier and at JJOC were subjected to conditions that placed them at serious risk of avoidable harm in violation of their rights protected by the Constitution of the United States. During our investigation, we received credible reports of misconduct by staff members to youth within their custody. The allegations revealed systemic, egregious, and dangerous practices exacerbated by a lack of accountability and controls. . . . These systemic deficiencies exist because State policies and generally accepted juvenile justice procedures were not being followed. We found that . . . staff did not receive minimally adequate training. We also found that proper supervision and accountablity measures were limited and did not suffice to prevent undue restraints and punishments. Staff failed to report allegations of abuse to the State, supervisors, and administrators. Staff members often failed to accurately describe use of force incidents and properly record use of mechanical restraints.
The University of South Florida 2012-2014:
Dr. Erin Kimmerle is a forensic anthropologist and University of South Florida Associate Professor who had led a USF team of anthropologists, biologists, and archaeologists exploring the Marianna campus in a project authorized by the state. The stories of the White House Boys piqued her interest, as she had worked with international groups to identify remains and burials in areas of warfare. She thought the specialists at her university could aid the state in identifying undocumented areas of burial by using current technology and scientific techniques. She was especially curious why there are no records of the locations of the burials, as is customary at state prisons, hospitals and similar institutions.In 2012, the team used ground-penetrating radar and some excavation to identify where bodies are buried. However, in order to determine if the cause of death was from injury, illness, or murder, the bodies must be exhumed. Given the long history of reported violence at the school, many people believe that some students died because of abuse. Under existing law, exhumations can be done only at the request of a family member. But many of the burials are of students who were here in the early 20th century, and records make it difficult to identify their families.
By December 2012, the researchers indicated that they had located 55 graves on the grounds. Given that they had documented nearly 100 deaths at the school, the team believed that a second cemetery was likely to exist.
Thomas Varnadoe was sent to the Florida School for Boys in 1934 and died there a month later. His nephew, Glen Varnadoe, came forward in 2012 saying that he wanted to have his uncle's remains exhumed for reinterment at his family's cemetery near Lakeland. He had visited Dozier School in the 1990s, and a staff member showed him where his uncle might be buried. That location was not the same as the area where the most recent burials were found. The state originally limited the USF team to searching the existing, delineated cemetery grounds, saying they did not have the authority to order exhumation of graves. Researchers discuss work revealed that using the remains they did find on site, they made seven DNA identifications and 14 other presumptive matches. Many of the unmarked burial sites studied are thought to be of black students, who were segregated at the school. The team found that three times as many black students died and were buried at Dozier than white students, and that some of those boys were incarcerated for non-criminal charges like running away and incorrigibility. Black boys were less likely to be named in historical records, as well, reflecting the grim realities of reform school life in the segregated South. They eventually uncovered a students family had actually been sent a coffin filled with planks of wood after a boy named Thomas Curry died there under "Suspicious Circumstances while escaping". The ledger entry at the Dozier school said he was “killed on RR Bridge Chattahoochee, Fla.” Another document at Old Cathedral Cemetery in Philadelphia says he was “killed by train.” No one from Dozier ever reported his death to the state. He was returned in a casket to his family, who, in turn, buried him in Philadelphia. Or so the family thought. It wasn’t until a state investigation beginning in 2008 that Curry’s death certificate was found at Dozier. It said he died of a crushed skull from an “unknown cause.” And it wasn’t until 2014, when University of South Florida anthropologists who have been working to unearth and identify remains on the former campus visited Philadelphia with Pennsylvania authorities, that the family learned Curry wasn’t in the casket – no bones, no clothing, no sign of him at all.
“Wood. Layers of pieces of wood,” said anthropologist Erin Kimmerle, explaining what she and her team found in the casket. “It was completely filled with wooden planks.”
At first, the team thought they had the wrong grave, but then they found Curry’s great-grandparents beneath the wood-filled casket…
Definitely some weird shit going on here.
In January 2016, the USF team issued their final report. They had made a total of seven DNA matches and 14 presumptive identifications from the 51 remains found at the site. A total of 55 burials were identified, but only 13 were made within the cemetery grounds, and "the rest of the graves were outside... in the woods, including under a roadway, brush, and a large mulberry tree." While they had documented 98 deaths at the site, they were unable to identify any more burials on the grounds. Some bodies may have been sent home to students' families. The USF team will continue to work with other organizations and families on DNA and other means of identification of the remains that were found. They created computer facial approximations from remains to help with identification. A number of families, including the Glen Varnadoe family, have filed requests to have the remains of their children or relatives repatriated.
In March 2014, Governor Rick Scott signed a bill authorizing up to $7500 per burial for those families who wanted to reinter the remains of relatives identified in unmarked graves at the Florida School for Boys. This followed the University of South Florida's report in January, which said they had been able to make matches of 21 sets of remains to known families. In addition, the bill proposes creating a task force to establish a memorial, "as well as deciding how to handle the remains of bodies that have yet to be identified or claimed by families.
The white house boys also fought to have the bodies of orphans and those that were unidentified to be reinterred far away from the ground at Dozier.
In as late as 2019 they are still finding what could possibly be unmarked graves. Dr. Erin Kimmerle again began an investigation of 27 "anomalies" discovered by an engineering firm hired by the state's Department of Environmental Protection to help clean-up following Hurricane Michael, according to Florida's Department of State.
Though the 27 anomalies discovered by radar are "consistent with possible graves," according to Governor Ron DeSantis, only fieldwork will determine whether human remains are present at the site.
The 27 "anomalies" are located less than 200 yards from a section on the Dozier school property known as Boot Hill Cemetery, where, previously, USF researchers found 55 graves.
Unfortunately in an update we found it turns out Kimmerle's team said those anomalies were mostly roots from pine trees moved from the area years ago.
Survivor Charlie Fudge and friend Rachel McCoy pleaded to be allowed on the property during future surveys.
Fudge said he remembers a graveyard being on the east side of a set of buildings on the property, near Old Air Base Road.
"I could sit on my cottage bench and see that cemetery," Fudge said. "My mind at 12 years old remembers that cemetery."
Kimmerle said her team did not find anything abnormal in that area, but nearby there is an established, fenced-in historic cemetery.
McCoy, who attended the presentation with Fudge, said letting the men on the property to assist is "what they need."
Fudge said he hopes the White House does not get bulldozed over when the property is cleaned up in the future.
"That's very meaningful to me and the other men," he said. "I'm just an old guy, who went there 60 years ago, and went through hell."
John Bell, who spent eight months at the school, also spoke and said the school was managed by "corrupt officials of the state of Florida" and "it's been going on for way too long."
In 2017, the state formally apologized to the survivors and families for the abuses and deaths that happened at Dozier. More than 500 former Dozier students have come forward over the years to report physical, sexual and mental abuse at the hands of those who worked there.
On June 29th 2020, Neil Davis, the oldest member of The White house boys passed away in a nursing home. He never told most of his family, including his children, that he had been at Dozier and what he'd gone through.
The white house boys vow to keep fighting for the rights of the victims.
"There are still 180 people not accounted for," she said. "We could lay it to rest. They're not just public, they were there. Let them walk the property." Fudge said
"We the White House boys; we know what has happened in that school," he said. "It's not going to be over until we say it's over."
There are some really great news articles used for this episode. There was a really great series of articles from The St Pete Times that were reprinted by the Tampa Bay Times that we recommend checking out. Also NPR has a ton of good info as well.
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