Florida investigates graves at boys’ school

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December 10, 2008— — There are hidden secrets at Florida State Reform School.

One day in the late 1950s, Richard Colon was working in the school laundry. After a long break in the bathroom, Colon, then an inmate student in his early teens, said he returned to find the room empty and quiet except for a working clothes dryer.

A young boy had been pushed into it, he said.

“I looked around and thought, ‘I could help her, but if I do, what are they going to do to me?'” he said, assuming that the boy had been forced to go in the dryer as punishment. “So I left him. And he died.”

“I think about him every day,” said Colon, now 65 and living in Baltimore. “I tell myself that I could have opened that door and I didn’t. It torments me.”

Colon says he doesn’t know what happened to the boy’s body or who forced him into the dryer. But he and a group of men who were students at the school in the 1950s and 1960s believe his remains may be buried among 32 newly discovered unmarked graves near the school, where they suspect boys who were killed at school were thrown away.

Their claims, kept hidden for more than 50 years, prompted Florida Governor Charlie Crist on Tuesday to order the Department of Law Enforcement to investigate the four neat rows of white crosses in Marianna near the area where the once segregated school housed black people. detained.

The men, now in their 60s, call themselves the “The White House Boys“, a name taken from the small white cinderblock building where they say they were repeatedly beaten with a leather strap lined with sheet metal. Others say they were sexually abused at school.

“The beatings were ungodly. I thought they were going to kill me,” said Roger Kiser, who said he was sent to reform school from an orphanage in late 1958. whatever.”

Officials of the school, now known as the Arthur Dozier School for Boys, and the state Department of Juvenile Justice have not disputed that some abuse took place and recently dedicated a memorial to the Whites. Houseboys.

Abuse Reform School

A Department of Juvenile Justice spokesperson said the department only heard about the abuse allegations at the White House last year and the school had changed.

“We have zero tolerance for anything that could harm a child in our care,” spokesman Frank Panela said.

Corporal punishment was banned in reform schools in 1967. But, as recently as 1987, the state settled a lawsuit that alleged officials at Dozier and other reform schools shackled and shackled students and kept in solitary confinement cells as punishment. The state admitted no wrongdoing, but agreed to end the use of hogtying and solitary confinement cells.

When Robert Straley was sent to school in 1963, he said he looked at the sprawling campus with student chalets, tall oak trees, swimming pool and gymnasium and “thought I was in heaven” .

“I didn’t know it was a beautiful hell,” he said.

On his first night, Straley said he and four other boys were taken to the White House for talking about running away. He was whipped 40 times, he said.

Straley, Colon and Kiser said boys were beaten for smoking, swearing or a number of other offences. Kiser said school officials believed a boy was masturbating under the table in the dining room. He was taken to the White House and never seen again, Kiser claims.

The men said they were forced into a small, damp room and told to lie face down on a bed covered in blood and other bodily fluids and grab the metal bars of the bed. Colon said the boys were told that if they screamed or moaned, the flogging would start again.

“There were little bits of lip and tongue where people were biting themselves trying to control themselves,” said Colon, who was sent to school in 1957 for stealing cars.

After a particularly heavy beating, Kiser said he woke up in a school principal‘s office. When he went to the bathroom and looked in the mirror, “I screamed as loud as I could because I couldn’t tell who I was.”

He said he was beaten so badly that his underwear stuck to his buttocks and he had to go to the infirmary to have pieces removed.

White House Boys

Once, Kiser said, a friend was taken to the White House. School staff dragged the boy out of the building and left him on the floor, blood pouring from his nose and mouth, Kiser said.

A group of boys gathered to see if he was okay.

“Roger, will you kiss me? asked the boy. “Like when your grandma hugs you when you’ve been hurt because she loves you.”

Kiser said he knelt down and kissed the boy’s forehead.

All three men said their time at school left them angry and emotionally detached as they got older. Over the years, several of the White House Boys found each other, mostly via the internet, where some had written about their experiences. They began advocating for an investigation into the abuse.

In October, Kiser, Colon, Straley and several other men returned to the school for a ceremony in which the White House was officially sealed and closed. They crossed the building and saw the cemetery.

Kiser’s old friends suggested he light a cigarette, a small act of defiance nearly 50 years after he left school.

“I couldn’t do it. I was whispering, I was scared,” he said. “Seeing those walls and smelling that smell…I was always afraid to smoke, even at 62.”

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