For Their Own Good
This six-part series reveals a century of abuse at Florida's oldest reform school in a haunting narrative. Originally published by the St. Petersburg Times between April and December, 2009, it is a winner of the 2010 Dart Award for Excellence in Coverage of Trauma.
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.
For 109 years, this is where Florida has sent bad boys. Boys have been sent here for rape or assault, yes, but also for skipping school or smoking cigarettes or running hard from broken homes. Some were tough, some confused and afraid; all were treading through their formative years in the custody of the state. They were as young as 5, as old as 20, and they needed to be reformed.
It was for their own good.
Now come the men with nightmares and scars on their backsides, carrying 50 years of wreckage — ruined marriages and prison time and meanness and smoldering anger. Now comes a state investigation into unmarked graves, a lawsuit against a dying old man. Now come the questions: How could this happen? What should be done?
Those questions have been asked again and again about the reform school at Marianna, where, for more than a century, boys went in damaged and came out destroyed.
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.
This was before the interstates sliced through the state, and they took Highway 41 north and connected with U.S. 19, then transferred to Highway 90 west, through Tallahassee, to the tiny panhandle town of Marianna.
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.
The books were shelved in rows, and each was filled with names of hundreds of boys from across Florida. Some were man-sized boys with criminal records. Others were retarded, or so young they didn't have hair under their arms.
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.
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.
Here came Marshall Drawdy, Eddie Horne, Robert Lundy, Manuel Giddens . . .
And Jerry Cooper, snatched from his bed at midnight and dragged through the dark, bare feet over wet grass.
Shut your f------ mouth! one of the men told him. What do you know about a runner?
Just outside the door he saw a limp figure lying still. A boy. Blood on his pajamas.
And Larry Houston, Bryant Middleton, Donald Stratton . . .
And William Horne, waiting to go through the door when he heard a boy scream inside.
Then: I think we done killed him.
And Charles Rambo, George Goewey, James Griffin . . .
And Roger Kiser, a scrawny orphan. The stench hit him as he walked through the door. He tripped and fell and a man grabbed him and slung him on the bloody mattress. Over his shoulder, he could see that the man only had one arm.
Bite that pillow.
And Paul Carrin, Michael Greenway, Henry Williams, Roy Conerly, Willie Roberts, John Brodnax, Frank Marx, from different cottages, different years, different circumstances, the same destination.
And 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.
The men gathered at the Florida School for Boys on Oct. 21, 2008.
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 Colón 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.
In the past year, they had each searched online for information about the Florida School for Boys, for something that suggested they weren't the only ones burdened by their experience at the school. They had found Roger Kiser's Web site. Kiser added their memories and photos to his blog.
They approached the state, seeking official acknowledgement that they had been abused and hoping to find some resolution along the way.
They found a friend in Gus Barreiro of the state Department of Juvenile Justice. He set up this ceremony to close and seal the White House. He even ordered a plaque to be mounted on the building:
In memory of the children who passed these doors, we acknowledge their tribulations and offer our hope that they have 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.
A small crowd gathered that Tuesday morning: state officials, school staff, television crews and newspaper reporters.
Bill Haynes approached the podium. He was nervous, but he tried to speak clearly.
"I have tried to understand why as a child in need of supervision I had to be beaten in such a brutal and sadistic manner," he said. "My experience at F.S.B. has mentally scarred me."
When it was time, the men turned to go inside the White House. The reporters and photographers surged close.
Bill Haynes stood at the door and stared into the darkness. He had driven so far. He had to go in, to face as an adult whatever it was that haunted him.
He tried to step through the door.
His knees buckled.
Once the White House Boys told their stories in front of the cameras, other men came forward with other memories.
George Goewey heard about the newspaper story at a St. Petersburg Starbucks. He remembered how the one-armed man would swing from down low, and how the strap would hit the ceiling, and how you could time the pain.
Eddie Horne was at work at a downtown St. Petersburg Publix when he saw the newspaper photograph of the White House. God's got a beating coming for the men who swung that strap, he says.
One man told of how he had holed up in the library, reading Tom Sawyer 11, 12, 13 times, to hide, to stay out of trouble. One remembered a kid who tried to run away and died from exposure while hiding under a cottage. Another had a story about a boy who was taken to the White House and never seen again.
Most of the men recalled being beaten by two staffers: R.W. Hatton and the one-armed man, Troy Tidwell. At least three men described being sexually abused by other guards in an underground room they called the rape room.
And there was something else. Newspapers had published a photograph of a small cemetery. Thirty-one white crosses. No names.
As stories of deaths and disappearances emerged from their collective memory, the White House Boys began to believe that they were the lucky ones.
When Troy Warren heard of the cemetery, his mind went back to his stay at the school. He says he and another boy were ordered to dig three holes behind the chow hall. They were to dig at night. Tidwell and another guard told them to make the holes 4 feet deep, and as long as a boy.
Monica Adams was in bed at her home in Tampa, drifting in and out of sleep with the television on in the background. Life had not been the same since her husband, Ed, died in September 2004. He weighed heavy on her mind, always.
About 1 a.m., something made her sit up straight. There it was, on CNN. This is what he had been talking about.
Ed had died a painful death. He was abusing antidepressants and had stopped eating. He had shriveled from 165 pounds to less than 100. As he neared the end, it seemed to his wife that he was reliving his childhood. He sat up at night for hours on end writing, filling pages of notebook paper.
After I saw these straps — long ones, thick ones, short ones — they reminded me of razor straps on the side of barber chairs. . . . I knew something horrible was going to happen to me. I was taken into a room and placed on a small bed about 3 ft wide, maybe 5 or 6 feet long. The bed was near the floor and had a filthy mattress on it. I was told to hold on to the end of the bed and not move or cry out. And then I remember the sound of something cutting the air, followed by a pain I can't describe. The most horrible pain a human being can imagine. It hurt so terribly bad. I would try and move to get up from the bed. God, Please make them stop beating me. But they beat me and beat me so bad.
He wrote of being beaten by the one-armed man.
I can't write anymore about this. God make them stop.
Night after night, while his family slept.
God please stop this! Please!!
Just before Ed slipped away, he scribbled a note for his wife and children, a last will and testament on notebook paper. He had two dying wishes.
The first was to transfer the Elvis songs he had recorded from cassette to compact disc. The other was to tell people how he had been abused at the Florida School for Boys.
The White House Boys Got a lawyer and filed suit against several state agencies. More than 200 men signed on. R.W. Hatton was dead, but Troy Tidwell, the one-armed man, was still alive. He is named in the suit.
Gov. Charlie Crist called for an investigation into the graves. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement started pulling records and asking questions. They talked to Troy Warren, who remembers digging boy-sized holes.
How could this happen? How was this allowed to continue? Why didn't someone speak up sooner?
But people have been speaking out about the Florida School for Boys for more than 100 years.
The first scandal came in 1903, a mere three years after the school opened. Investigators found children "in irons, just as common criminals." This was no reform school, their report said. This was a prison for children.
The investigation would launch a seemingly endless cycle of exposes and fleeting reform.
In its first two decades, investigators discovered that school administrators hired out boys to work with state convicts. They also learned that students were brutally beaten with a leather strap attached to a wooden handle.
In 1914, six boys and two staff members died trapped in a burning dormitory. A grand jury learned the superintendent and staff were in town on a "pleasure bent" when the fire started.
The superintendent lost his job.
Trouble continued with each passing year, from reports of inadequate medical care to the murder of two students by peers.
Outsiders had no idea. Every year, thousands of families came from miles around at Christmastime to see elaborate decorations built by the boys. Headlights stretched down dirt roads as people puttered through the campus, past waving mechanical Santas, plywood nativity scenes and angels with tinfoil wings.
By 1956, the overcrowded Marianna facility housed 698 students and 128 staffers. It had become the largest boys' school in the country, and it was growing.
In March 1958, a Miami psychologist and former staff member at the school told a U.S. Senate committee about mass beatings with a heavy, 3 ½-inch-wide leather strap.
"The blows are very severe," Dr. Eugene Byrd testified. "They are dealt with a great deal of force with a full arm swing over his head and down, with a strap, a leather strap approximately a half-inch thick and about 10 inches long with a wooden formed handle."
"What is your opinion?" a senator asked.
"In my personal opinion it is brutality."
In 1968, corporal punishment was outlawed in state-run institutions. By then, the school had been renamed the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys, after a longtime superintendent. That year, Gov. Claude Kirk visited Marianna. He found holes in the leaking ceilings and broken walls, bucket toilets, bunk beds crammed together to accommodate overcrowding, no heat in the winter. Kirk declared it a training ground for a life of crime.
"If one of your kids were kept in such circumstances," he said, "you'd be up there with rifles."
An official from the U.S. Department of Health called it a "monstrosity." One juvenile court judge who toured the facility vowed never again to send boys there. Another said it was so understaffed that boys were left alone at night and sexual perversion was common.
A year later, a reporter for the Christian Science Monitor visited the school and found a 16-year-old named Jim in solitary confinement. Jim had eaten a lightbulb, then used a glass diffuser pried from a lighting fixture to gash his arm a dozen times from wrist to elbow.
"No one seemed to care," the reporter wrote. The headline read, Bulldoze them to the ground.
More reforms were ordered, administrators were replaced. A preacher began a ministry at the school. Staffers visited a successful juvenile program in Red Wing, Minn., and brought back lessons. Love, not fear, is the best remedy.
For a few years, all was quiet.
Ten years later, in 1978, Jack Levine was teaching delinquent kids at a short-term residential center in Tallahassee when he heard about the Dozier school. The kids said it was a bad place.
One Sunday afternoon in November, Levine drove up to the entry gate and showed Health and Rehabilitative Services credentials. He found a lockup facility at the back of the campus. He could see a long hallway lined with metal doors. It was dark and reeked of body odor and urine.
Are there kids in here?
Yeah, said the guard.
I want to meet one. How about this cell?
There were top and bottom slip locks and bolts. One lock wouldn't budge. The man went back to his desk, grabbed a book — the Holy Bible — and whacked the lock.
Inside on a concrete slab, not a mattress, Levine saw a very thin, small, frightened boy with a shaved head and pajama bottoms, no shirt.
How long have you been in here? Levine asked.
The boy shrugged.
He's been here for a while, the guard said.
The guard told Levine the boy was locked up for his own protection. Theon. The boy said the older boys were sodomizing him with a broom handle.
Why is his head shaved? Levine asked.
The boy has been pulling his hair out, the guard said.
Is he getting any help?
We just pass the food in.
Levine, who would become a well-known child advocate, told his supervisor back in Tallahassee. Nothing came of it until Levine brought it to the attention of an ACLU attorney. In 1983, the class-action "Bobby M" lawsuit was filed on behalf of students at Marianna and two other state reform schools.
The suit made a number of allegations, the most serious concerning isolation cells where boys were held for three weeks, sometimes longer. They were hogtied — forced to lie on their stomachs with their wrists and ankles shackled together behind their backs.
The suit was in the courts through three governors. Superintendent Lenox Williams was transferred. On the eve of the 1987 trial, the state settled, agreeing to sharply reduce the population at Dozier and another juvenile institution. "These reforms launch Florida into a new and progressive era in the way we treat young offenders,'' HRS secretary Gregory Coler said at the time.
It didn't last.
In 1993, teenagers attacked two British tourists at a rest stop near Monticello, killing one. Already upset with increasingly violent youth, Floridians were in no mood to coddle young criminals. By 1994, Gov. Lawton Chiles asked a federal court to throw out the population caps at Dozier.
Juvenile justice rides the waves of public perception. Investigations bring outrage. Outrage brings promises of better funding and training, better monitoring, better checks and balances. Then the attention fades, and with it the reforms. In 1903, investigators found kids in shackles. Nearly 80 years later, investigators found kids hogtied.
The school is still open, and still called the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys. It houses about 130 kids.
The state now makes available a telephone that children at the school can use to report abuse. The Department of Children and Families monitors those calls.
From July 2004 to March 2009, DCF investigated 316 allegations of abuse at the school, according to documents obtained by the St. Petersburg Times. Seventeen of those were verified. Thirty-three had "some indicator" of legitimacy.
One incident was caught on security camera. Now it's on YouTube.
On Feb. 11, 2007, a skinny 18-year-old named Justin Caldwell is standing still in a dormitory at the school. A heavy-set guard approaches him and stands there for a moment. Then he grabs Caldwell by the throat and slams him backward on the ground. The guard drags the boy into the center of the room, his head bleeding, and leaves him. Caldwell looks to be unconscious. His legs twitch.
Two months later, the school's superintendent and a guard were fired. State officials decried operational problems at the school that "span the chain of command from top to bottom.'' The school's 200 employees would be trained to use verbal intervention instead of physical contact.
What is the cost to society of such a place? It's hard to know whether trauma at the Florida School for Boys set children on a course for violence. But one man knew that the school was harming kids: Lenox Williams, who took over as superintendent in 1966.
The St. Petersburg Times interviewed Williams for a 1968 story, "Hell's 1,400 Acres." He acknowledged the school was so understaffed that kids were learning how to sniff glue, break into groceries, or sodomize other kids.
"I know some children are harmed by their experience here," Williams told the reporter. "But what can we do?"
Studies at the time showed that in facilities with fewer than 150 children, only 6 percent got into trouble and were sent back. Overcrowded Marianna had a returnee rate of nearly 30 percent, Williams said, while the rate of children going on to a life of crime was even higher.
Many of the children who left the school in the 1950s and '60s went on to rape and rob and kill.
After 14 months at the school, Leon Holston killed three younger boys in Pompano Beach. He has been serving a life sentence in state prison since 1968. Roger Lee Cherry is facing execution for the 1986 murder of an elderly DeLand woman. Robert Hendrix is on death row for shooting a Sorrento man and slitting his wife's throat in 1991. Frank Smith died on death row.
Donn Duncan is serving life for the 1990 murder of his fiancee in the Orange County home they shared. He broke a knife off in the woman's back in front of her 13-year-old daughter. "I remember that place like it was yesterday," Duncan wrote in a letter to the Times.
The list goes on. Others have been in and out of prison their whole lives.
George Goewey has been arrested 38 times, most recently accused of cocaine possession and sale. He says he's clean now, and the 62-year-old has a stable job at a scooter shop in St. Petersburg, but he blames the school for ruining his life.
"You learned how to be sneaky," he says. "I lost all respect for authority."
Manuel Giddens was serving time in Marianna while his father was founding Lighthouse Gospel Mission, preaching to Tampa's homeless and building a successful recovery program. By the time Giddens got out, he had learned to hot-wire cars and pick locks. Shortly after his release, he broke into a hardware store in Fort Myers. Then he started running marijuana and cocaine out of Colombia, through Miami and Fort Lauderdale, into Fort Myers in shrimp boats, to cities up and down the East Coast. He has been in and out of prison for 40 years.
"Marianna is the root of my whole problem," he says. "If I hadn't have been through that period of time, I would have took on my father's religion. I was born to be a pastor, and it didn't happen. I was born to take over the mission, and I turned and went the other way."
What about the others? How does childhood trauma manifest itself in law-abiding adults?
Robert Straley stopped leaving the house much when he nearly had a meltdown at a Wal-Mart. Roger Kiser is in his sixth marriage and still has trouble with hugs. Charles Rambo couldn't sleep in the dark until he was 25. James Griffin is 63 and still can't.
Jerry Cooper is 64 and takes Lexapro to calm his nerves. His wife once told him that the manager at the grocery store had asked for her number. Cooper drove to the store and waited in the parking lot. He walked to the man's car and punched through the window. It took five police officers to pull Cooper away.
"Even today I have a problem with authority," he says. "It has plagued me all my life."
Robert Lundy tried to drink the demons away. It cost him three marriages.
Michael O'McCarthy turned to alcohol, too, but the drinking led to paranoia and depression and self-loathing. Just a few years after Marianna, O'McCarthy tried to rob a gas station in California with a pretend gun. He spent seven years in prison.
"Look at what they did to us," he says. "We were children. We were still kids."
Bryant Middleton earned a Purple Heart in Vietnam. He'd go back there before he'd go back to Marianna.
Eddie Horne sometimes has phantom pain. "I'll be laying in bed and I can feel the pain from where they beat me," he says. "I just want to go up there and make them pay."
From outward appearances, Stu Kruger has enjoyed good things in life. The 67-year-old worked on Wall Street and now runs a credit repair business in Miami. But he's never been able to stay put more than a year or two. He feels like someone is always after him.
"I've never told anybody this before," he says. He fishes into his pocket for something.
In Marianna, he and another boy had tried to run. They were marching back from the Saturday matinee in town, The Bridge on the River Kwai, when they tore off into the woods. They stole a car and peeled toward New York. But the state police caught them a mile or two out of town.
At the White House, the other boy went in first. Kruger sat in another room. As his friend screamed for his life, Kruger bent over and picked up a small pebble off the floor and rolled it in his fingers and thought about how small it was and how good it felt.
Fifty years and five marriages later, he pulls his hand out of his pocket. In his palm is a tiny pebble.
"I can't go anywhere without it," he says. "Fifty f------ years."
The City of Southern Charm: Marianna, pop. 6,200.
On weekends, hunters chase white-tailed deer through the thick pine woods. Preachers pack churches on Sunday mornings. Traffic along Marianna's picture-postcard main street slows to a crawl at 5 o'clock on weekdays, when the bells ring at the First Baptist Church and the sun sets on a tall Confederate memorial downtown.
In some ways, not much has changed in 50 years. But Interstate 10 cuts south of the city now, and a cluster of chain hotels and restaurants and a Wal-Mart Supercenter have sprung up around Exit 142, edging the city toward modern America.
Since the allegations of abuse were made public, some in town have pulled together to defend the school. They've suggested the White House Boys are exaggerating — even lying — and trying to milk money from the state. During a Chamber of Commerce breakfast, someone suggested the memorial plaque at the White House be removed. The local newspaper launched a series: "In Defense of Dozier."
"Unfortunately, you can throw mud and dirt further than you can throw clean sand," wrote a columnist for the Jackson County Times. "These claims have not been proven or substantiated, but much national media attention has been generated which includes very negative publicity for our community."
A few men who worked at the school long ago still live in the area.
Sammie West lives outside town. He's 71 now.
West started at the school in 1960 and stayed for 40 years in a number of jobs including cottage father. He says he personally spanked two boys, and he administered fewer than 10 swats each. He even remembers their names. But that was state-approved protocol at the time, and it was always witnessed by a supervisor. The staff stopped paddling boys in 1968, he says.
"I do not know what went on behind closed doors," he says. "I would not say that there has never been a boy abused. It's going to happen. But I never saw it or heard about it. . . . I think they was spanked, and that's it."
He recalls three deaths at the school in his 40 years: A boy was found at the bottom of the swimming pool, a boy died from a heart condition in the gymnasium, and a boy drowned during a canoe trip on the Chipola River.
He says when the boys would run, he and other men were responsible for tracking them down, a task that often took hours. And a lot of boys ran before the campus was fenced in.
"Sometimes you'd go a month without boy hunting," he says. "And sometimes you'd go boy hunting every night."
Former Gov. Claude Kirk, now 83, remembers boys locked in their dorms at night with a chain. But he says he never heard about physical or sexual abuse. "None of that surfaced at the time," he says. "If it had, I would have done something about it. Put somebody in jail."
The men who were beaten say there's no way the abuse could have been kept secret. They say they sent photos of their behinds out with friends who were being released. Some told their families on visits, but things didn't change. Many needed medical treatment after their beatings. Some recall a Dr. Wexler smearing ointment on their lacerations.
Wexler is dead, but his daughter remembers helping her father, who had poor eyesight, when their family lived on campus. Sheila Wexler says he occasionally treated boys who had cuts or welts on their behinds. "But if they needed a stitch," she says, "it would only be a few."
Lenox Williams lives down a dirt road, in a sturdy cabin he built himself, where a sign that says "Grandaddy's House" hangs beside the front door, and the porch radio is tuned to a Southern preacher. Inside, the walls are covered with antique farm implements and family photos. A framed certificate proclaims Williams a deacon at Trinity Baptist Church.
When he was hired as a psychologist in 1960, the school had a history of anemic funding. Buildings were falling apart. Mentally handicapped children shared the campus with 18-year-old sex offenders, because the state had no other place to send juvenile delinquents. The population swelled to more than 900 boys supervised by only 140 adults, which made keeping order a constant battle.
"There probably were some abuses," says Williams, who was superintendent from 1966 to 1986. "Anytime you've got human beings together, you're going to have people abusing each other."
Williams does not believe anyone was beaten to death. The old cemetery was there when he arrived. He ordered a Boy Scout troop to clean it up and fashion 31 new metal markers. He asked a Florida State graduate student to compile a history of the school and try to learn who was buried there.
The student found that the cemetery held six boys who died in the 1914 fire; 10 who died during an influenza epidemic in 1918; a boy who died after a prolonged illness in 1935; a runaway whose decomposed body was found under a private residence in Marianna in 1941; a boy found dead in the laundry after being beaten by another boy in 1949; two dogs and a peacock named Sue. He could account for 22 of the 31 graves.
Williams suspects the names of the others have been lost to time, not something more sinister.
He says he has never seen a leather strap the men talk about. He says it was protocol to give 10 to 12 licks, depending on a boy’s size.
“We used a paddle,” he says. “We were supposed to administer it to the buttocks and nowhere else, and we did.”
Williams may have a faulty memory. In 1997, he was deposed when former boys’ school student Roger Lee Cherry appealed his death sentence. “Was corporal punishment used at that time in 1962?” an attorney asked.
“Yes,” Williams replied.
“Did that ever get out of hand?” the attorney asked.
“At times it did, yes.”
A later superintendent, Roy McKay, who has died, offered a sworn statement for the same appeal.
“Although I never witnessed or participated in the strappings that were used as a form of punishment in the 1960s and 1970s at Dozier, I did witness the aftermath of this form of discipline. On many occasions, a child would come to my class and would be unable to sit down after being beaten with a leather strap in the woodshed we called 'the White House.’ ”
In a later interview with the Times, Williams says he may have been aware of the beatings before he was promoted to superintendent in 1966. He pauses over his grits. “I think there were some who might have enjoyed it on our staff,” he says. “Might have enjoyed the over-spanking.”
Troy Tidwell lives in a white house near the center of Marianna. He doesn’t answer his door.
“We’re trying to shield him as best we can,” his landlord says on the phone. “He’s an 85-year-old man.”
“You’re just trying to ruin a good man’s life,” says his ex-wife, Mary. “Leave him alone!”
Tidwell’s granddaughter, Tiffany Pippin, says her family doubts the stories. They know a man who danced the fox-trot on Friday nights, who took his grandchildren fishing, who flirted with the ladies behind the perfume counter at the mall in Dothan, Ala. They know a man who always dressed sharp before he left the house and sat quiet in the First Baptist Church on Sunday mornings. “He’s a good man,” says Pippin, 29. “He loved his wife. He never beat his children.”
Tidwell’s family lived in Bascom, a tiny town north of Marianna, Pippin says. His father died when he was young. When Troy Tidwell was 6, he played with his father’s shotgun. He leaned on the barrel and accidentally fired the gun, which severed his left arm.
He’s self-conscious about it and sits with his arm facing the wall when the family goes out to dinner. Pippin says her grandfather has worked hard his whole life to overcome the handicap, and after more than 40 years at the school he deserves a peaceful retirement. That’s why the allegations burn.
“It’s an embarrassment and defamation of character,” she wrote in an e-mail to the Times. “That’s why we are so upset about the lies and exaggerations made up by these men in an attempt for them to receive retribution.”
But she says neither her mother nor her uncle have asked Tidwell about the allegations. They respect him too much to ask.
Tidwell’s lawyer, Matthew Fuqua, says Tidwell admitted that staffers used corporal punishment, but says the White House Boys’ accounts are exaggerated or completely false.
“He said, 'I never saw any child with bloody pants, bruised and bloody from being whipped. Certainly I never did it, and I can’t imagine that anybody else did it either because I would have known about it.’ ”
How does that square with the stories?
“I don’t know,” Fuqua says. “I don’t know whether they’re lying, or the abuse that happened when they were a child was magnified over a time. All those kids, it was a bad situation they were here. Most of them were lonely and from broken homes. I don’t know if it was magnified in their eyes. But the allegations of bloody underwear and that type of stuff, he just says didn’t occur, or he was not aware of it occurring.”
Bill Haynes is retiring after 30 years working for the Alabama Department of Corrections. He and his wife have a nice patch of land off a dirt road in a small town outside Montgomery. They live in a warm little brick house with a dachshund and a china cabinet full of glass Jesus figurines.
He’s been having a hard time sleeping. His old nightmares are back. He dreams he is running through the swamp, dogs behind him. He wonders if he ever should have gotten involved.
What is he owed? How do you measure a life of conversations cut short? How do you repay a man for years of distrust?
He wants reparations from the state, if it will make the juvenile officers of Florida think twice before hitting a child. He’d like to see Arthur G. Dozier’s name come off the school. He says he took a beating from Dozier himself, and that kind of sin should preclude the man from posthumous honor.
Bill Haynes thinks about Troy Tidwell sometimes. He thinks he’d like to knock the taste out of his mouth. “But that would make me no better than him,” he says. “I should have compassion for him.”
He is told that Tidwell has been upset by the lawsuit, physically and emotionally, that it has disturbed what little life he has left. He stopped going to church. He hasn’t been dancing. He asked his granddaughter if she would like to have his furniture.
Haynes is told that Tidwell can’t sleep at night, and that he’s alone, blinds drawn, scared to come out of his little white house. Maybe, he says, that’s good enough.
About this story
This story is based on more than 100 hours of interviews with 27 men who were sent to the Florida School for Boys in the 1950s and '60s, and with current and former officials with the state, the school and the Department of Juvenile Justice. The interviews were supplemented with newspaper clippings, congressional and court testimony, archival photographs and other documents. Over five months, the reporters traveled to Marianna four times. Since launching its investigation, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement has sealed access to the school, now called the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys. Through his attorney, Troy Tidwell declined to be interviewed.
Torment and Truth
Jerry Cooper has always lived an insult away from assault. He has been cuffed in parking lots, chained inside jail cells, ordered to anger management classes. He is surprised he has yet to kill a man.
All that meanness started one night in 1960, he says, when he was a 16-year-old ward of the Florida School for Boys in Marianna. A one-armed man dragged him to a building called the White House and hit him 135 times with a leather strap.
Now that man claims it never happened. Even though more than 325 former inmates say they were beaten at the state-run school, the old guard, Troy Tidwell, says he never gave a boy more than a dozen state-sanctioned licks.
"Spankings," he called it.
One of them is lying. Cooper drove from Cape Coral to Tampa on Thursday to prove it isn't him.
• • •
"The purpose of this exam today is to test you on the truthfulness of your experience at the boys school," says Mike Alaiwat, a forensic psychophysiologist.
Jerry Cooper sits facing a blank wall at the base of a tall office building in Tampa. Alaiwat has attached medical devices to Cooper's torso, his arm, his fingertips. The devices measure breathing fluctuations, heart rate and the heat in Cooper's fingertips.
Cooper paid $400 for this test himself. He picked at random Alaiwat, who has nine years in the field.
Polygraph tests aren't typically admissible in court, but Cooper felt like he had to do something. It's been two months since he and other men were featured in a St. Petersburg Times special report, "For Their Own Good." The civil lawsuit the men filed against Tidwell and several state departments is lumbering along. An FDLE investigation into the Florida School for Boys, now called the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys, hasn't turned up much. Criminal charges against the aging former guards appear unlikely. And Jerry Cooper can't sit still and just take it.
Alaiwat will ask Cooper a series of questions. Some pertain to the beating while others are innocuous. If Cooper lies, Alaiwat will know because Cooper's heart rate will increase, his breathing will fluctuate or his fingers will sweat.
Cooper has given Alaiwat three questions — the industry standard — in advance. He crafted the questions after watching Troy Tidwell deny beating boys in a deposition in late May, a video he could not watch twice. He has not slept much since he decided to do this four days ago. His wife waits in the lobby.
Question 1: "Did Troy Tidwell give you more than 30 lashes that night he thought you had information on a runner?"
Cooper remembers that night. He was 15. He'd been sent to the school after police caught him riding in a stolen car with an AWOL Marine. Things were okay for the first few weeks.
That night, he was sleeping in Roosevelt Cottage when two men woke him up.
What do you know about a runner? one man asked.
I don't know anything about a runner, Cooper replied.
He was dragged in his white nightgown to the White House, forced down on a bloody mattress and told to grab the bed rail. Someone shoved Cooper's nightgown between his legs.
Then he heard a strap cut the air.
"Yes," Cooper replies.
Question 2: "Did Mr. Tidwell and two other staff give you more than 100 lashes that night at the White House?"
That first lick lifted him off the spring mattress, and they kept coming.
Cooper played quarterback on the football team and put up with a mean stepfather. He knew how to deal with pain.
You're nothing but a g- - - - - - - - liar! the man said and he slapped Cooper's face. Cooper scrambled, trying to flee. The men forced him down. One punched him in the mouth. Another mashed his toe.
Another man took the strap. When he tired, another. The boy waiting in another room counted to 135.
"Yes," Cooper says.
Question 3: "Were you told to wrap towels around your body that night to keep blood off your mattress?"
Cooper woke up on the floorboard of a state car. His thighs and buttocks were swollen. His nightgown was splattered red. He had trouble walking.
His cottage father escorted him inside and told him to put Vaseline on his injuries and to wrap two towels around his waist and tie them in place with a sheet.
The next morning, he peeled the towels off and backed toward the mirror. His rear was black and crusted. He swore he'd never let anyone hurt him again.
"Yes," Cooper says.
• • •
When the test is over, Cooper is crying. His hands shake in front of his face.
"I'm sorry," he says. "This isn't me.
"Could you tell my wife to come in?"
Babbs Cooper knew this would be hard. She has lived with his anger for 28 years.
"I walk 10 steps behind him," she says.
She wasn't sure he should come. No one asked him to do this. She knew the lawyers were apprehensive.
And what if he failed?
She saw how mad her husband grew when he watched Tidwell deny beating the boys, even though so many of them told the same story.
How could the old man not show some mercy and tell the truth? she wondered.
She sees her husband in the corner and rushes to him. She holds his head as he sobs.
"I passed," he says. "I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry."
"It's okay," she says. "It's okay."
Alaiwat closes his computer.
"There was no deception indicated," he says. "It appears that Mr. Cooper is being truthful regarding his experience with Mr. Tidwell and other staff in the White House at the Florida School for Boys."
Outside, Cooper lights a cigarette. The man who still bears the scars from his beating says he feels great. He says he'd like to challenge Troy Tidwell to take a polygraph test.
Ben Montgomery can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8650.
A Lingering Pain
Carol Smelley keeps her memories of Michael in a worn scrapbook on the end table, by the Holy Bible and the TV Guide. Inside, Michael Clifton Smelley is forever fresh-faced and smiling, wearing blue jeans and a white button-up, holding a basketball in front of a patch of North Florida pines. Ms. Smelley, 82, has surrounded the faded photograph with girlish stickers: My Special Angel. Sweet Baby. Missing You. "She don't talk about him much," says her son Robert. "Because she starts crying when she does." Michael died in March 1966. The cause, according to his death certificate: Carcinoma of spine and lungs. But it's what happened just before he died that has kept Ms. Smelley up nights for 43 years now, and what has moved her again to join a fight against the state of Florida. Her son, she says, was beaten by guards at the state-run Florida School for Boys.
The school is the subject of an ongoing investigation by the St. Petersburg Times. More than 400 men who were juvenile inmates at the school in the 1940s, '50s and '60s have joined a class-action lawsuit against the state, saying they were dragged to a small, putrid building they called the White House, forced down on a cot and beaten bloody by the school staff with a weighted leather strap. The men have told the Times that the beatings were so brutal they had to wash fabric from their underpants out of their lacerations. Some men still bear the scars.
In the 1960s, Purl G. Adams, a Crestview lawyer, took on the Smelley's case pro bono and petitioned lawmakers in Tallahassee to look into the abuse at the school, according to Ms. Smelley.
"They didn't believe him," she says now. "They wouldn't listen."
So the old woman again faces a government she says has blood on its hands. Ms. Smelley is sharing her story publicly for the first time.
• • •
Michael Smelley was slower and sweeter than other boys. He didn't talk right, and he couldn't always keep up, but he brought home every stray mutt he came across on the dirt roads here in the rural Florida panhandle.
"He was born with a dead cell in his brain," says his mother. "He was a good boy. Slow in learning, but good just the same."
Terry and Carol Smelley were working-class. Terry drove tug boats out of New Orleans and cut wood when he could and stocked the shelves of a grocery store for a dozen years. Carol stayed at home to raise the children.
When Michael was 13, he and his older brother Butch got into trouble for skipping school. The judge ordered them to the Florida School for Boys in Marianna, Ms. Smelley says. They were there a few months when the school sent Michael home in an ambulance. He couldn't walk. Couldn't feel his legs.
She took him to the hospital in Pensacola where doctors found a tumor on his spine. He underwent surgery in 1962 to remove the tumor and soon regained his ability to walk.
But a judge ordered Michael and Butch and two other boys back to the school after another run-in with the law. The boys had broken into the Five and Dime in Crestview and stolen a stack of comic books, M&Ms and a suitcase to lug the loot home.
"Michael was crying and begging me not to let them send him down there," says Ms. Smelley.
The pleas did no good. Michael, Butch and two Crestview brothers — Donnie and Joe Schoffner — were sent to Marianna together. Soon after they arrived, they hatched a plan to escape.
Donnie Schoffner, 63, is the only one of the four still alive.
"Soon as we got there, we made a deal," he says. "We was going to wait until 10 o'clock, then one of us was going to flash the porch lights on the cottage. We did it, and all four of us just ran."
There were no fences around the 1,400-acre campus, so the boys slipped into the swamp without notice. The plan was to catch a freight train west, through DeFuniak Springs to Crestview. They ran for what felt like hours, sloughing through black water and tripping over cypress stumps. Before long they heard dogs bawling in the darkness behind them.
"Mike got tired of running," Schoffner says. "They got him first."
Schoffner was last. He started over a barbed-wire fence when the headlights hit him.
"Don't try to run," he remembers a man saying, "or I'll shoot."
He said the man was calm, and he remembers these words hanging in the cab on the way back to the campus:
"You gonna have it whipped like you ain't never had it before."
By the time they brought him back to the White House, the others were gone. Schoffner got 45 licks. He did not cry. He stood in the showers and let the water wash his underpants out of his wounds.
The next morning at school, something was different about Michael.
"He was staggering around," Schoffner says. "He wasn't right. . . . He got worse and worse. You could tell he was in pain. His whole physical well-being was just gone."
He said Michael soon couldn't walk. He was moved into the infirmary, and the staff began to cater to him. Schoffner was called to the head office. He can't remember who sat across the desk, but the message was clear: If you don't want this to happen to you, keep your mouth shut.
He never saw Michael Smelley again.
• • •
Ms. Smelley kept the medical records and legal notes for years, until a storm tore the roof off her old trailer and ruined boxes of documents.
But Michael's medical records are still on file in the hospital in Gainesville. The Times obtained them with Ms. Smelley's permission. The doctor's notes say Michael was admitted to the Health Center at the University of Florida in July 1965 (he was 16 at the time) "with a 4-5 day history of paraparesis (weakness in lower extremities) culminating in paraplegia."
The notes say Michael had been paraplegic before the first operation in 1962, but had "recovered full function of his legs in about one week."
"The interim history has been unremarkable except for the patient's conflict with the law and subsequent assignment to the penal institution," the report says. "The patient states that 2-3 weeks prior to admission he began to experience generalized weakness in the lower extremities which culminated in a frank weakness four days prior to admission. He was seen several times in the prison infirmary and subsequently referred here for further evaluation." The notes say nothing about Michael having been beaten.
Surgeons performed an emergency decompression and sent him back to Florida State Prison. According to the notes, he was able to walk using a walker, but never fully recovered. By December, he was back in the hospital for another surgery. Doctors removed a portion of the tumor. Notes by nurses in the next few days suggest the 16-year-old was in pain.
"Complaining of muscle pain."
"Had episode of coughing. Raising white frothy mucus."
"Complaining of ribs hurting."
The notes say he was discharged on Dec. 8 on a stretcher, accompanied by a guard. He was returned to the state prison at Raiford, then sent home to his mother. She bathed him and changed him and held his hand as he cried.
• • •
Michael Smelley died March 15, 1966, a week before his 17th birthday, two years before the state banned corporal punishment. His parents buried him in a donated casket, in a grave with no headstone, behind the Baptist church in Crestview. But covering the boy with dirt didn't bring any closure. Every time Mrs. Smelley visited his grave, she wanted to dig down and bring him back home.
"I wanted to go down there and kill them men," says Ms. Smelley now. "I had nightmares about it."
The Smelleys found an attorney to work on the case for free.
"I thought we had a good case," Ms. Smelley says, "but they just didn't believe that they whipped the boys like that."
The attorney, Purl G. Adams Sr., is long dead. One of Adams' former legal secretaries, reached by phone, said she remembers the name Michael Smelley, but no details.
Adams was not the first to take complaints about abuse at the school to Tallahassee.
In 1941, the mother of a boy named James Young gave 5 acres to a Bradenton lawyer to petition the state to release her son from custody. The mother had visited her son at the school in Marianna and the boy told his mother he had been beaten bloody in the White House. She made him pull his pants down.
She was outraged.
Gov. Spessard Holland summoned Young to Tallahassee.
James Young is 82 and blind now, but he remembers the trip. He was 14, and he sat between Arthur G. Dozier, for whom the school is now named, and Mullard Davidson, the school's superintendent.
"They drilled me the whole way up there," Young says. "They said, 'You weren't abused. You were spanked.' "
Young was questioned by the governor's Cabinet. He did what he had to do.
The next day the newspapers carried this news:
Governor Holland and other members of the state cabinet, all former school teachers, approved the disciplinary paddling of boys in the State Industrial School at Marianna. It was their answer, supported by the expressions of confidence in Superintendent Mullard Davidson, to the charge by Mrs. C.S. Thompson of Wauchula that her son, James D. Young, was whipped with a three-inch board. Davidson said Mrs. Thompson's claim of brutal treatment of her son and other boys was "utterly false."
"It really broke my mother's heart," Young says now. "She didn't intend to have this thing happen.
"These kids there wasn't bad kids."
• • •
At the Times' request, Dr. Frank D. Vrionis, director of complex spine surgery at H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center, reviewed Michael Smelley's medical records.
He said it's clear the cancer on Michael's spine and in his lungs killed him. Whether his death, or paraplegia, was accelerated by a beating is difficult to know.
"The timing was suspicious," he said. "It could have been so severe that it might have aggravated it, but it's almost impossible to prove."
He said violence consistent with the stories of men who were beaten in the White House could break a very fragile spine.
"It would have happened anyway," Vrionis says of Michael's death. "Whether this violence sped things up, it's possible it did. That was quite a bit of force."
One person is certain. Donnie Schoffner was there that night.
"They contributed," Schoffner says. "They beat a slow boy until he couldn't walk. Then he died."
One of the school staffers has been deposed by the attorneys bringing the class-action lawsuit. Troy Tidwell, 85, said that boys were "spanked" and that he never gave a boy more than 10 or 12 licks in his 40 years at the school, and that the 400 men making the claims must be lying. Another, Lennox Williams, told the Times he wouldn't be surprised if there was abuse at the school, but he had no direct knowledge of it.
Carol Smelley knows better.
When she's not in the hospital, Mrs. Smelley lives in a mobile home heated by a wood-burning stove. The walls are covered by Mr. Smelley's magic marker drawings and the roof hasn't been fully repaired from the hurricane.
When she opens the scrap book, it hurts all over again.
"I just never have gotten over his death," she says. "I've been bitter. All these years. . . . I just can't seem to forget about that boy."
Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Ben Montgomery can be reached at bmontgomery@ sptimes.com or (727) 893-8650.
Abuse Leaves Deep Scars
The women couched their words carefully, even apologetically.
True, their husbands have been quick-tempered, terrifying with their bullying and thunderous tirades and even beatings.
But at heart, these were good men. Men, who as boys had been sent to what is now called the Arthur G. Dozier School in Marianna, where they were thrashed bloody with leather straps, sometimes until they passed out. Men who still bore the emotional and even physical scars of the long-ago abuse.
Married 29 years, Lorie Moore, 46, accepts her husband Tom's verbal outbursts. "Look what he's been through. He has to take that anger out somewhere," she said Friday evening as her husband and other men who say they were abused at the reform school gathered with their wives at a Days Inn in Orlando.
Tom Moore, 62, is one of the White House Boys, so called because of the small white building on the sprawling campus they knew in the 1950s and 1960s as the Florida School for Boys. It was in the White House that they were made to stretch facedown on a mattress for searing floggings on their backs and buttocks.
This weekend marked the third meeting of these unwitting alumni who, after finding each other in recent months, gathered to talk about their secrets and pain, nightmares and night sweats and strings of failed relationships.
Peggy Marx, 59, helps to keep the reunions organized. Her purple and pink plastic bins hold files and name tags. Men call her to share their stories, but she can tell her own. Her marriage to husband Frank, 65, has had tumultuous moments. Two of their five children no longer speak to them, she said.
"I have two grandsons I've never seen," she said.
The children hated her husband's anger, said Marx, who added that she was physically abused during the first five years of the marriage. "He was always saying to the boys, 'I'd kill you before I'd see you in Marianna.'
"These guys went through hell, but they put their families through hell."
Babbs Cooper, 64, chokes up when she talks about her husband, Jerry, 65, and their 28 years of marriage.
"It is very difficult to talk about it," she said. "He'll tear a house up in five minutes. It would be the smallest of things that would set him off."
Jerry Cooper was a teenager when he was sent to Marianna. He had been caught riding in a stolen car with an AWOL Marine. He said he was flogged 135 times with a leather strap by a reform school employee named Troy Tidwell. Recently he took a polygraph test to prove that the stories he's told about his beatings are true. He passed. His wife was there to comfort him as he sat shaking when it was over.
"I have caused a lot of havoc in the family because of my attitude and temper," Cooper said.
The White House Boys' wives find comfort in each other.
Diane Fudge, an outgoing woman with a Long Island accent, said she's learned a lot about the men's common personality traits from discussions with other wives.
"They go from having very hot tempers to being overly passive," said Fudge, a 48-year-old Homosassa woman who has been married for 10 years. "There's no middle road with any of these guys. We learn what buttons not to push."
The wives also complain that their husbands have a difficult time showing affection, she said. "My husband's way of showing me he loves me is giving me jewelry, which is nice, but sometimes I think, 'Just go with me for a walk and hold my hand.' "
Her husband, Charles, 61, the owner of an antique auction gallery, said he and three brothers were all sent to the Florida School for Boys. He has been married twice before and was not "the loving, caring husband that I should have been," he said. "I'm sure that was a big part of my divorces. I didn't beat them, but I'm sure I gave a lot of verbal abuse. When my wives didn't do what I told them, I figured that I was in charge, the way my instructors were."
His present wife, who describes him as the most generous person she knows, is familiar with his past verbal abuse.
"Ten years ago, when I married him, I would never know when he would blow up," she said.
"One time, the big fight was what time we were going to have Thanksgiving dinner. The other time was how I was peeling the potatoes. … About seven or eight years ago, he became a Christian. If he gets angry once a year, that's a lot, and I'm not afraid of him anymore."
Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 892-2283.
100 Years Later and It's Still Hell
The boys were watching.
They had noticed the old men and the television trucks gathered at the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys.
They were not allowed outside, but this day last October was about them, too. So said the plaque about to be fixed to the building called the White House.
May this building stand as a reminder of the need to remain vigilant in protecting our children as we help them to seek a brighter future.
The men outside called themselves the White House Boys. They were assured that the abuse they endured here 50 years ago — beatings that left them bloody, ruined their sleep, wrecked their marriages and destroyed their lives — would never be repeated. This was a different place now. The boys inside were safe.
After the ceremony, the superintendent would write to her staff: "I am proud to show what our Dozier is truly all about today."
But behind closed doors, were those boys safe and protected? Were they being nurtured toward brighter futures?
"When the media was around, they would hide us," said a boy named Matthew Schroeder. "They didn't want us saying a word to anybody, because they knew what we would say.
"We'd tell the truth."
• • •
Here is what the men there that day did not know:
That five months before, a boy had his ear sewn back together with 10 stitches after a scuffle with staffers.
That four months before, a 39-year-old guard punched a 16-year-old boy three times in the face and slammed him into a fence.
That a month before, a 16-year-old boy was attacked by other boys in an unsupervised bathroom.
Or that three days before, a boy who had been peeing blood for days sat down and wrote: "I was refused medical attention and I need to see an urologist about my kidneys."
Today, the state's oldest reform school houses about 130 of the 6,000 juveniles in the custody of the Department of Juvenile Justice.
They are kept behind fences topped with razor wire, at a place where kids have been abused for 100 years. Over the years boys have been beaten here, shackled here, hog-tied here. Kept in isolation, driven so crazy they ate glass. Eight died in a fire here, neglected by guards. Hundreds of men who were beaten here in the 1950s and '60s have sued the state. Dozens of boys are buried here on a little hill, their graves unidentified, the details forgotten.
What kind of place is the Dozier School for Boys today?
The Department of Juvenile Justice, citing the pending lawsuit and strict privacy laws, refused for months to let the St. Petersburg Times on campus to inspect conditions, interview boys or talk to staff. On Friday, as this story was headed to publication, DJJ officials agreed to schedule a visit.
For now, that leaves little more than the word of the state and the public record.
Using the state's public information laws, the Times obtained more than 8,000 documents to better understand the school's recent history. Those documents betray a place of abuse and neglect, of falsified records, bloody noses and broken bones.
In the past two years, according to the school's own reports:
A suicidal boy drank cleaning fluid when no one was watching.
A boy so disturbed he threatened to cut off his finger to prove he wasn't human climbed to a rooftop before guards could tackle him, breaking his arm.
Two boys went missing on campus for nine hours. Five staffers failed in their duties that day, and the superintendent of the high-security portion of Dozier didn't report the incident. When it came to light, he resigned.
Another guard slapped an inmate during a basketball game, bloodying his nose. The boy asked to call the state's abuse hotline, but was denied.
When an inmate is allowed to report abuse, the complaint goes to the state Department of Children and Families. In the past five years, DCF has opened 155 investigations at Dozier and verified seven cases of improper supervision, four of physical abuse, one of sexual abuse and one of medical mistreatment. An additional 33 cases had "some indicator" of abuse, mistreatment or neglect.
DCF's investigative summaries were released by a judge after the Times argued that the public has good reason to see the records. According to those documents:
In January 2006, a guard grabbed a boy by the neck and head-butted him, breaking the boy's nose.
In July 2006, a diabetic boy whose blood sugar was low was unresponsive for 20 minutes as two staffers ignored him. One staffer later quit and another, still on staff, was reprimanded.
One guard allegedly stuffed a boy in a laundry bag, and when the boy tried to chew through the strings, the guard encouraged others to scratch and pinch him. Investigators found "some indicators" of abuse: the boy's bruises. Without video or witnesses, the allegations are sometimes impossible to prove. The guard resigned.
Yet another guard chased a boy through the dining hall with a broom, broke the broom on a refrigerator, then chased the boy with the sharp end. The guard grabbed the boy in a headlock and fractured his jaw. The guard then tried to sabotage the investigation. He was placed on leave and is no longer on staff.
The Dozier campus sits on the edge of town on a patch of land carved out of the pines. Some of the buildings date to the early 1900s. Boys complain about mice, spiders and roaches.
"While in the Dining Hall I was eating my food and a roach crawled out of my food," a boy wrote in February. "This is not the first time this has happen."
The response from the staff?
"Dining Hall was cleaned and checked. We will control this as much as we can."
Late last year, a visiting supervisor found roaches in the suggestion box.
• • •
Matthew Schroeder is 18, and small for his age.
He was born with cystic fibrosis, a condition that requires daily medication and care. When Schroeder was arrested in the little town of Crawfordville for burglary and larceny, he landed at Dozier, because it was thought to be the facility best equipped to deal with his medical needs.
Schroeder said he spent the first 65 days at Dozier sick in his cell with vomiting and diarrhea, his stomach knotting. Schroeder can't digest food without medication, and day after day in June 2008, he said, he received his medication late or not at all.
"I couldn't get out of bed," he said.
"He was in excruciating pain," said his aunt, Susan Lidondici, who complained to the school.
Boys were often overmedicated or undermedicated. In a single week in September 2008, at least eight either missed getting their medication or nurses failed to document it.
Nurses at Dozier worked 12-hour shifts, plus overtime, because of staffing shortages. At times, the school had four nurses when it should have had nine. The starting salary for a licensed practical nurse at Dozier was until recently $11.80 per hour, below most all other nursing jobs in the area. At one point, an administrator warned of a "highly contagious bacteria" in the infirmary.
The head nurse repeatedly warned superiors about the shortages.
"I am very concerned for the youth in our care," she wrote in August 2008.
And in October 2008: "Our medical department has reached its most critical level … "
And in December, after she quit due to a stress-related medical condition, her replacement wrote: "We need nurses now! … I am unwilling to continue to jeopardize the well-being of the youth in our care."
Schroeder got so ill he spent a week at Shands Hospital in Gainesville. Doctors told his family his bowels were impacted and his condition was exacerbated at the school. He lost about 50 pounds there, he said.
On March 19, after almost a year, Matthew Schroeder walked out of the reform school.
"Hell," he called it.
• • •
What does it take to work at Dozier?
The state has two requirements — you must be at least 19 and have a high school diploma or equivalent. But superintendent Mary Zahasky, the school's sixth leader in eight years, expects more.
"The first thing we look for is someone with good character," she wrote in an e-mail to a potential applicant. She looks for someone who is "a good role model to teenage kids."
But a number of employees have criminal charges, including passing worthless checks, driving under the influence and domestic abuse.
In the past two years, one guard came to work reeking of alcohol and was referred to counseling. Another came in high on cocaine and marijuana. And another admitted to being a habitual drug abuser after he came to work high and was sent to the emergency room.
In 2005, the school hired James Edge. Three years before, the 265-pound man with a snake tattoo on his leg was arrested for domestic battery and violating a protective order. According to his wife's sworn complaint, Edge wrenched her arm behind her back, fracturing her shoulder.
Edge is the same officer involved in the May 2008 scuffle in which a boy's ear was split open. The following month, records show, he bloodied a boy's nose and slammed him against a fence, cutting his thumbs. Then Edge was fired. Officials now say they are investigating his hiring.
Guard Arthur Edmon Jr. posted photos on his MySpace page in which he makes obscene gestures and poses on a cash-covered table (caption: "f--- u haters"). He also posted a homemade rap video of friends dunking a basketball and pointing a gun at the camera.
Guard Frank Bernaldo has a MySpace page that contains sexual images and language and the following biographical nugget: "I like to go hunting but not for animals, only for people who piss me off."
"We didn't know about this," said DJJ spokesman Frank Penela. "We would certainly not want someone with a character that portrays negativity or violence or bad personal conduct to be working with kids."
Starting pay for an entry-level guard is about $11.29 an hour, or about $23,500 a year. "But we train them well," Penela said. That includes 240 hours in topics such as first aid, verbal de-escalation techniques, adolescent development, gang awareness and ethics.
John Bennett, 41, worked as a guard at Dozier for more than a year, often alone with boys, often at night, and sometimes, he said, as the sole adult in charge of three teens on suicide watch. Bennett took special education classes throughout his schooling, his brother said, and struggles to read and write.
"I have a learning disorder," he said.
"We were shocked that he got the job," said his brother, Ed Bennett. "We thought that maybe they'd hire him as a janitor or something."
Asked if training was hard, John Bennett said: "It was easy. They gave us all the answers to the tests."
Bennett said a boy once slapped him in the face. He told the boy not to do it again. The boy slapped him harder.
His biggest problem was with the supervisors. "They made fun of me."
They called him slow and stupid, he said, and ribbed him over mild infractions. One day, he was a minute late for work and got a stern warning. The next day, he came to work 15 minutes early and announced his arrival over the radio.
"Mr. Bennett, reporting for duty 15 minutes early, sir!"
That got him in trouble for using the radio.
"He wasn't retarded," spokesman Penela said. He doubts Bennett was helped with the test.
Bennett was fired in July 2008 for absences and sleeping on the job. He thought sleeping was a minor infraction because his own supervisor would regularly sleep in a van on the night shift.
Records show this is common. A nap might seem minor until you consider what happens when guards aren't looking.
Documents show that boys had oral sex in a van and in the showers. A boy said he was raped in the shower. A juvenile sexual offender roamed at night so frequently that boys would barricade their doors with their desks.
Fights often broke out in the showers. A boy from Yulee, who asked the Times to withhold his name because he was arrested as a juvenile, was blindsided as he entered the bathroom. "They came up behind me and hit me in the back of the head as I was walking in. I woke up on the floor."
His mother and father visited him a few days later.
"He looked terrible," said his mother, Laurie Bland. Black eye, constriction wounds on his neck, impact wounds on his chest, back and rib cage.
The boy doesn't know how long he was unconscious, just that it would not have happened had the guards been doing their jobs.
The boys on the outside say not all staff are bad. They can easily rattle off staffers who made an impact on them.
"The staff is generally there for the kids," said Chris Windau, who was arrested for breaking into a CiCi's Pizza. "But there are others who, it's just a job for them."
Child advocate Gus Barreiro took an interest in Dozier. The former state legislator from Miami was hired last fall to oversee Dozier and three other programs. He was fired in January after DJJ found adult pornography on his state laptop. He denies the charge. The rumor among the boys at Dozier was that he was helping them too much.
"That place is full of generational employees," said Barreiro, 50. "My great-grandfather worked there, grandfather worked there, so I work there."
Barreiro wanted to know why turnover was so high. "I was asking things like, 'What brought you here? What do you like about the job?' " he said. "The No. 1 answer was always benefits or retirement or salary or job security. It wasn't until you got to No. 5 or 6 that they said anything about working with kids.
"It's like working at Sea World and getting to No. 5 before you say you like whales."
• • •
Dozier isn't the place it used to be, because now boys have options to report mistreatment. They can file a grievance. They can call the abuse hotline.
But that system fails.
If they want to call the hotline, sometimes they have to phone in front of the alleged abuser.
"Twice, I asked to call abuse and they told me it wasn't an option," Matthew Schroeder said. "They told us if you called abuse and if it came back false, then they could press charges on you for making a false report and the maximum penalty was five years."
"They told us that all the time," said the boy from Yulee.
One boy wrote that a guard told him they "wipe their a---- with grievances." Another wrote, "I don't know why y'all have grievances. They never work."
On April 6, a boy wrote: "I'm afraid of Mr. black. He has an anger problem and I feel like he might hurt me."
The response from a supervisor: "I talk to Mr. Black about this youth he just Doing his Job."
Child advocate Cathy Corry filed a complaint in November after someone posted allegations on her watchdog Web site: Younger kids being beaten up; staff members sleeping, threatening boys to keep them quiet and falsifying reports.
Dozier's assistant superintendent dismissed them outright.
"All of the above allegations apparently came from the Justice4Kids Web site where anyone can report their own opinion!" wrote Milton Mooneyham. "We will conduct an internal investigation to disprove these allegations."
Asked whether an "investigation to disprove these allegations" is really an investigation, spokesman Penela defended the school's second-in-command.
"When we do an investigation, it's certainly unbiased, it's certainly thorough," he said.
Corry, who has been an activist for 10 years, wasn't surprised.
"It's pathetic," she said. "The child is viewed as a liar right away, so the child has to prove that they're not lying, and that's difficult for them to do."
• • •
Mark Caldwell checked into Room 115 at the Ramada Inn in Lake City, caught a few hours of sleep and was up before the sun.
In the lobby, he flipped through pictures of his only child.
Here was Justin cooking. Here he was on a lawn mower. Fishing. NASCAR. And here they were with matching haircuts.
"He's my baby," Caldwell said.
The photos stop when Justin hits puberty.
That's when Justin started getting into trouble. He stole money from a neighbor and threw a rock at a school bus. Then his stepmother caught him touching his little brother.
He was 13 when he was sentenced to a South Florida DJJ program, then later transferred to Dozier. His sentence was extended due to allegations of bad behavior, his father said.
He turned 18 in Dozier.
Then came Feb. 11, 2007.
What happened that morning is Justin's word against the guard's.
James Wooden said Justin elbowed him in the cafeteria, then head-butted him, knocking off his DJJ hat. Wooden tried to take down Justin, but their feet got tangled. When Wooden stood up, Justin kicked him.
Justin claimed Wooden head-butted him. Several boys testified that Wooden slapped Justin on the forehead, according to news coverage of the short trial.
In court, Justin's attorney pointed out that Wooden was 5 inches taller than Justin, which would have made it hard for Justin to head-butt him. The attorney also showed it would have been hard for Justin to kick Wooden, based on how the two were positioned.
A jury had to decide who they wanted to believe. A seven-year DJJ employee, or an inmate?
What is known is that later that day, Feb. 11, a video camera caught Justin standing still. A heavy-set guard grabs him by the throat, slams him backward on the ground, then chokes him. Guards pick up Justin and are leading him away when he falls and slams his head on a table. The guards drag him to the middle of the room where they leave him, bleeding. His legs twitch.
Police charged Justin with battery on a detention officer. Two months later, the superintendent and the guard, Alvin Speights, were fired.
The DJJ secretary at the time, Walt McNeil, called for a "change of culture" at the school.
Justin was sentenced to five years in prison, the maximum.
The guard, Speights, was not indicted.
"It's a crime what they did," Mark Caldwell said. "If my neighbor's dog walks into my yard to do its business and I kick the dog and somebody sees me, I'm going to serve time."
Every few months Caldwell, a tool and die maker, rents a fuel-efficient car and drives 350 miles, from Spanish Fort, Ala., to the Lake City Correctional Institution, his Wal-Mart watch set to Eastern time — "Justin's time."
Every tick is a second closer to 2012, Justin's release date.
Mark thinks about the man he'll take home that day. He'll be 23. He'll have an arm covered with prison tattoos. His closest relationships will have been with criminals.
What Florida citizen, Caldwell wonders, believes that the best treatment for a 13-year-old is to jail him for 10 years? How did slamming Justin's head into the concrete help to reform him? What kind of life can he expect to lead?
The White House Boys, those men who came of age at the school in the 1950s and '60s, overwhelmingly say they grew up angry and distrustful. They took out that anger on their wives and kids, even on strangers. They went back to jail.
Five decades later, can Mark Caldwell reasonably expect anything different for his son?
Caldwell bought Justin a '92 Camaro. When the time comes, he will teach a grown man how to drive, how to pay for gas, how to behave on his first date.
He climbs into his rental and heads toward the prison, quarters in his pocket for vending machine pizza. He drives past a park and a forest and a community college and pulls up to a 894-bed prison surrounded byed by razor wire and men with dogs. He walks past a giant Florida flag and disappears inside.
• • •
Reform in Marianna?
It was ordered in 1909, when investigators found faked records and the superintendent quit.
And again in 1911, when the superintendent was hitting kids with a leather strap.
And again in 1913, when children were hired out to pick cotton and the superintendent resigned and laws were changed.
And again in 1914, 1920, 1921, 1953, 1963, 1968, 1976, 1982 and 2007, two months after Justin Caldwell was beaten, when the DJJ head said: "There are systemic operational problems at our Dozier facility that span the chain of command."
Was it fixed?
Can it be fixed?
Matthew Schroeder's aunt: "The culture in that place was established long, long ago and it's just going to continue.''
Matthew Schroeder: "Change the atmosphere, or cut it off."
Mark Caldwell: "Dozier is a place of evil. Dozier needs to be shut down."
Now comes a new DJJ secretary, Frank Peterman Jr., a Baptist preacher and former state representative from St. Petersburg.
He said Dozier has a cultural problem. He has no tolerance for hurting kids, and his agency fires guards who do. He is already seeing results: lower numbers of employees filing for workman's compensation and fewer kids being sent to hospitals.
"What we've tried to do is change the culture … to make sure we try to back off the kids,'' he said. "We will become restraint-free.''
Peterman, appointed in February 2008, said he is focused on prevention, transparency and verbal de-escalation, and on hiring better people with better pay. Example: Today, Dozier's 10 nursing positions are filled thanks to a pay hike this year.
Better pay means getting more money from the Legislature to fund a place that has been strapped from its beginning.
So what about the people who control the money?
State Rep. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, is arranging a visit to Dozier for the Criminal and Civil Justice Appropriations Committee, on which he serves. If the findings are true, "I would be as appalled and outraged as any human being."
So would Rep. Marti Coley, R-Marianna, she said, if she knew of any abuse. But so far, "I have not gotten any calls whatsoever except from you."
Sen. Al Lawson, a Democrat who has served in the Legislature for 27 years and whose district includes Marianna, initially said he did not accept the Times' findings about the school, and did not want the Times to send him the DCF reports.
"I've not had one complaint about conditions out there,'' he said.
But he did review the reports, and later expressed concern. "It's imperative and important that they have a way of dealing with the problem up there."
In February, Lawson spoke at a Jackson County Chamber of Commerce meeting in Marianna, according to the local newspaper. Near the end of the meeting, someone suggested that the plaque be removed from the White House. For some, the plaque is like a stain on the town.
Lawson told the crowd that he would try to get it removed.
Eleven days later, a boy was kicked and stomped by other youths, then placed in isolation. He asked to call the abuse hotline, to let somebody know what was going on. He was denied.
Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 892-2283. Ben Montgomery can be reached at bmontgomery @sptimes.com or (727) 893-8650.
A Roster of the Lost
The cottage is snared in vines, as if the jungle is trying to consume the bricks and broken glass. It sits on an abandoned edge of the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys, a 109-year-old reformatory for the state's troubled kids.
The old cottage is the only accessible corner of an inaccessible place, a state-run institution with a long and ugly history of violence and abuse, protected by privacy laws and razor wire.
Inside, past the graffiti-covered lockers and overturned bunks, is a bathroom. In a toilet, on a cold morning earlier this year, a reporter found a document. Four fragile pages containing 180 names. A list of boys confined here on April 22, 1988.
Such records are supposed to be kept confidential. No telling why this one survived in a toilet for two decades. But the list offers a window into an unexplored time at the reform school. It allows, for the first time, a public accounting of a single Dozier class.
Using public records, the St. Petersburg Times tracked the boys on the list. How good was this place at fulfilling its mission of reform? What became of the Dozier Class of '88?
At least 174 of them — 97 percent — were arrested again after Dozier. They raped and killed. They sold drugs near schools and beat their wives and swung on cops. They held guns on store clerks, drove getaway cars and left victims across the state.
Talk to them, and many say their real troubles started here. They are Dozier's legacy.
• • •
Aaron Burns is on the list.
In September, in his final days in prison, he secretly bequeathed his pet lizard to an inmate he trusted and made a promise to never come back.
He put on the clothes his sister saved when he was booked two years ago: Wolverine boots and blue jeans. He pocketed his wallet, which contained a Social Security card, a Winn-Dixie preferred customer card and a receipt for the guitar he pawned for $20 to buy gifts for Christmas 2007.
That's when he found himself out of work and broke. He drank vodka and woke up in jail and learned he had hit his girlfriend.
Two years later now, the first step in his plan to fix his life starts at Serenity House West in DeLand, in a room full of men trying to mend their mistakes. He takes a seat under a sign that says "First Things First."
The man up front begins.
"If we're not careful, we tend to think of ourselves as bad people," he says. "We're not. Put the plug in the bottle and we're very intelligent, capable, friendly people. Society out there doesn't understand this.
"Check your own story, folks."
Where does Burns' story start?
At age 6, when his dad killed himself in the garage?
At 13, when he and some friends broke into a house looking for booze and walked away with a pistol?
Or at 15, when he arrived at the Dozier School for Boys in Marianna?
The first week, he was attacked while a guard looked the other way, he said. When it happened again, he fought back. That was the start of months of ambushes and sleepless nights, and pity the kid who tried to tell an adult.
"Marianna left scar tissue," Burns says, smoking a cigarette outside the halfway house. "They'd tell you, 'Your parents don't love you. Nobody loves you. That's why you're here.'
"You think you've got nothing to lose."
• • •
Can you blame the choices of a batch of criminals on a single place? No. But it's hard to argue that time at Dozier makes boys better citizens.
The Times has written about two other generations molded by Dozier. Hundreds of men who spent time there in the 1950s and '60s, called the White House Boys, have filed a lawsuit claiming they're haunted by the bloody whippings they endured.
Those types of beatings were stopped, but documents show the boys there in the past five years have suffered medical neglect, sexual abuse and broken bones.
So what about the Class of '88?
Out of 180 boys, at least 174 were rearrested after Dozier was supposed to have straightened them out.
Of the other six, one was shot and killed in St. Petersburg in 1989, riding in a drug dealer's Thunderbird. Another died in 1998 in Jacksonville at age 27. One has no criminal record and appears to have led a successful life. The Times couldn't account for the other three.
At best, the Class of '88 represents a lifetime recidivism rate of 97 percent.
Three-fourths were rearrested within three years. Eighty-three percent were rearrested within five years.
Many have long rap sheets and served numerous sentences. They have helped drain the coffers of a state where Department of Corrections spending has shot from $600 million a year in 1988 to more than $2 billion.
Twenty-one years later, almost a third of them — 51 of the 180 — are still incarcerated in Florida. Four are serving life.
Still others are dead after serving sentences.
It's hard to compare Dozier to some statistical mean, because states calculate data in different ways.
But 97 percent?
"This is extraordinarily high and deeply concerning," said Angela Hattery, professor of sociology at Wake Forest University who is co-authoring a book, Prisoner Re-entry and Social Capital.
It's especially high because many Dozier kids were sent there for nonviolent crimes.
"Those kids are not difficult to turn around," said Kathleen Heide, professor of criminology at the University of South Florida and author of two books on juvenile homicide. "Those figures are alarming. They're tragic even."
• • •
Dozier should have been a safe and effective program in 1988.
Aaron Burns had been there a short time by then, and state officials had just announced plans to overhaul the juvenile justice system. Dozier was finally getting cleaned up.
Ever since kids were found shackled in 1903, one investigation after another had documented abuses and fueled fresh alarm. In 1968, an official from the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare called Dozier "one of the worst examples in the nation of a boys' reform school." Gov. Claude Kirk visited and told reporters: "If one of your kids were kept in such circumstances, you'd be up there with rifles."
In 1983, the ACLU and others filed the class-action Bobby M lawsuit claiming kids were hog-tied and isolated for long stretches. The resulting settlement forced the state to outlaw hog-tying, reduce the population at the school, retrain staffers and install a federal monitor.
"These reforms launch Florida into a new and progressive era in the way we treat young offenders," said the secretary of the state's Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services.
Here is how men who were there in 1988 describe that progressive era:
"Kids were raped, beaten and abused all the time," wrote William Mantle, 37, who is held in Tomoka Correctional Institution for stealing a car. "I've been to prison 3 times and . . . there isn't a prison I've been to that compares to Dozier."
The Times wrote letters to everyone on the 1988 roster who was incarcerated in Florida. About half wrote back. One man said he was locked in a dog cage for several hours as punishment for hiding on campus. Another said guards beat him unconscious, then told him not to tell. Many said rape and beatings were common among the boys, and guards looked the other way. Some said guards pit kids against each other, offering single cigarettes or Little Debbie snacks to the winner.
Charles Anthony Jones, imprisoned for 18 of the past 21 years, said he was whipped with a belt until he was bruised and bleeding. Steven Long, a 39-year-old addict serving time for forging prescriptions, said he saw boys with those kinds of injuries locked in the infirmary.
"I still have facial scars that reminds me of Marianna every time I look in the mirror," wrote Sherman Atkins, 37, serving time in Wakulla for cocaine possession and driving with a suspended license. "I still think about how scared I used to be when I was confined there. . . . We was constantly threatened repeatedly not to speak about it with no one, especially our family, and I never did."
"It was a gladiator school," said Derek C. Gavin, 38, who was released from prison in 2003. "It was dog eat dog. It was a terrible experience in that dorm. Man, I'm talking about like you wouldn't believe."
• • •
The man who ran Dozier in 1988 is dead. The assistant superintendent, Daniel Pate, is 63. He retired in 2002 and still lives in Marianna.
He acknowledged that during the Bobby M litigation, and during the transition period after the settlement in '87, the school had troubles.
"There was chaos for a while."
Staffing was too low, he said, and there were "a lot of things that happened during the litigation that caused the staff to feel vulnerable and kids to feel empowered." A power struggle ensued.
Carole B. Shauffer, executive director of the Youth Law Center, worked on the Bobby M suit and visited the school before the case was filed.
"The conditions were terrible, but the most basic thing is that the staff hated the kids," she said. "The staff spoke contemptuously of the kids. . . . The staff just thought they were bad kids and there was absolutely no other way to control them."
The man who was assigned to monitor Dozier as part of the '87 settlement said the reforms did not handicap the guards, they just reduced the brutality.
"Dozier was a brutal place for years and years, and it had brutal policies and practices," said Paul DeMuro, who led a team of monitors. "And the Bobby M decree did not put the kids in charge."
Pate said things at the school began to get better after the staff was retrained and funding was increased, around 1988.
He said he is surprised by the stories of the boys who were at Dozier then.
"I'm sorry that they would have said that," he said. "I'm sorry that they had a bad experience. I really am."
• • •
Randy Griffin is on the list.
He had been a quiet kid who liked to shoot pool after school at Campbell Park in St. Petersburg, but somehow got misguided. His mom, Phyllis Coachman, believed the judge when he said reform school was the best place for her son.
The Marianna compound reminded her of a college campus. But her son would confide that he couldn't sleep for fear he would be beaten. She didn't know what to do.
"I thought when I was sending him there that he was going to learn something or that his behavior was going to be different," said Coachman, 62. "But he came back even worse. He came back offensive."
After Dozier, he was arrested again and again for 15 years: cocaine possession, counterfeiting, grand theft. In 2007, Randy Griffin was shot dead outside a nightclub in Atlanta.
• • •
David Allen is on the list.
He was always big for his age, his mom said, so when he got into trouble for things like throwing rocks at a school bus, police in the small town of Madison took it seriously. Rocks became deadly missiles.
"They would just lock him up for any old thing," said Margie Allen, 68.
Now David Allen is 38. He's 6 feet tall and nearly 300 pounds. His muscled arms and shoulders bulge under his prison jumpsuit. "I can't really remember a lot of what happened during those years," he said in an interview.
At Dozier, they gave him a pill three times a day. It made him groggy, a juvenile zombie. He spent about four years at Dozier.
He remembers getting into a fight. The guards dragged him to the isolation unit and handcuffed his wrists to his ankles behind his back. He can't remember how long he was left on his stomach, but he can remember how dark it was and how alone he felt.
"If I wouldn't have went there and experienced the things I did, I wouldn't be here now," he said. "How they treated you, it made you suspicious of everything."
He has spent 16 of the past 21 years in prison. In 2007, he was convicted of robbery with a weapon and grand theft. He's due to be released in 2066.
"I been locked up all my life," Allen said. "I don't know how to relate to people anymore. I just don't know what goes on out there in the world."
• • •
Donald Wheeler is on the list.
In November 1997, the Pinellas County man led police in Maryland on a 50-mile chase in a stolen Oldsmobile.
He stopped on the median of a highway and held police at bay for eight hours, until they fired a tear gas canister into his car.
Wheeler, who had told his family he wasn't going back to jail, put a bullet in his own head.
• • •
Abraham Hamza is on the list.
He's one who made it. He's the only man the Times could find who was not rearrested after Dozier.
The 38-year-old lives in Jacksonville, has a $70,000-a-year job and is married with three kids. "I've got a pretty good life now," he said.
Not because of Dozier. Hamza, who grew up popcorn-for-dinner poor in Jacksonville and started stealing food at an early age, landed there at 16 for a series of crimes. He remembers fights that turned into riots and guards who burst in swinging sticks to break them up. He said he saw a boy raped and saw another blinded during a fight.
After nine months at Dozier, Hamza said he was transferred to a better program in Jacksonville where juveniles received therapy. He got his GED, left the state and joined the Marines.
He's not surprised he's one of the few. "Everywhere else I went, they were trying to fix you," he said. "At Dozier, they weren't trying to fix you. They were trying to hold you."
• • •
By almost any measurement, Dozier falls short.
Heide, the USF professor, offers a comparison to a program in Texas that treats a rougher population than Dozier — exclusively kids with violent histories who are most likely to reoffend. The Giddings State School decreased the probability of re-incarceration within five years by 55 percent, and decreased the probability for any additional felony offense by 43 percent.
"The hard part of the puzzle is figuring out how much of the recidivism is related to the experiences these young men had in juvenile facilities, and how much is a result of other problems in their lives," said Hattery, the Wake Forest professor. "Either way, their experiences at Dozier must have contributed to their life trajectories."
Heide observes that juvenile justice legislation in Florida hobbles along on good intentions and a severe lack of funding. When lawmakers cut budgets, juvenile justice is a favorite target because young criminals don't vote.
It is easy to say criminals deserve whatever rough treatment they get. "Yet, not treating them will end up costing all of us more," notes Heide's colleague, assistant professor Shayne Jones. "Some individuals will pay for this lack of treatment by becoming victims of offenders we failed to treat. And taxpayers will continue to have their hard-earned money being used for more police patrols, increased court dockets, and prisons."
The DOC estimates that it costs taxpayers $20,108 a year to imprison an inmate, which means Aaron Burns' confinement has cost Floridians somewhere near $170,000, not including the associated costs of police services, prosecutors, defense attorneys, judges or county jails. That's enough to pay the yearly salaries of six juvenile justice residential officers today.
Using the same calculation, the 100 men on the list who have spent the most time in prison cost taxpayers about $22 million in the past two decades.
"If we had done nothing," Heide said, "we'd have done better for these kids."
• • •
When Aaron Burns was released from Dozier, he took a Greyhound home to Deltona and decided to live right. It didn't last. The police came to his house to investigate a burglary in the neighborhood. He says he was innocent, but when he saw the cops, he ran.
In the two decades that followed, he was sent to prison four times: burglary, grand theft, battery on a law enforcement officer and escape. He has spent more than eight years behind bars, long enough to learn to make tattoo ink from melted checkers and guitar picks from snuff cans.
Burns is trying to stay straight this time. At the halfway house, they're teaching the men about changing their attitudes, teaching them to value themselves and to identify the root cause of their grief and to move on. Burns has thought a lot about Dozier in the past few weeks.
"I really don't know how my life would have turned out," he says. "But maybe I wouldn't have just assumed that I'm no good. Maybe my first instinct would not have been to run.
"A lot of my aggression was instilled in that place. It's something you learn as a young kid and it doesn't go away. It becomes a part of you."
He listens and scribbles notes in the margins of his handouts. If only he had learned these lessons 21 years ago, he says.
Every evening, he looks in the mirror at a man whose hair is graying, who has wasted much of his life.
He is free to leave this place when he wants. There are no bars or locks to keep him in. For the first time, he's not trying to run.
Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Ben Montgomery can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8650. Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 892-2283.
- - -
"They treated you like trash, always putting you and your family down, telling you you would never amount to anything. What they loved the most was to humiliate you. To make you feel you were the worst person that ever lived."
Steven E. Long, 39. Serving four years for forging prescriptions
"I was a pretty troubled child. I think I did around six years (in detention centers) as a kid. . . . Dozier was by far the worst."
William R. Canfield Jr., 37. Serving 15 years for lewd and lascivious battery on a minor. He has a tattoo on his left arm that says TRUST, and one on his right that says NO ONE.
"The whole atmosphere felt like I was being prepared for prison."
Lamar A. Miffin, 39. Convicted on five charges a few months after he was released from Dozier. He has been in and out of prison since.