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Researchers from the University of South Florida found some of the remains of 55 people in a graveyard at the Dozier School for Boys in Marianna, Fla. USF Anthropology Team/AP

Researchers from the University of South Florida found some of the remains of 55 people in a graveyard at the Dozier School for Boys in Marianna, Fla. USF Anthropology Team/AP

Florida’s Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys was a Horror Tale come to Life

“There’s just too many stories,” Roger Kiser, who was at the school in the 1950s, has said. “I know of one [boy] that I personally saw die in the bathtub that had been beaten half to death. I thought he’d been mauled by the dogs because I thought he had ran. I never did find out the true story on that. There was the boy I saw who was dead who came out of the dryer. They put him in one of those large dryers.”

For more than a century, boys were sent to the Florida School for Boys reformatory in the north Florida town of Marianna. Many were beaten brutally and bear the physical and psychological scars to this day. Many boys, though, never came home. They died, some under mysterious circumstances. They were buried in unmarked graves and they were forgotten.

Children, some as young as five or six, who ran away from physically, sexually or verbally abusive homes; yet were labelled as incorrigible children by the juvenile court system of Florida. Under court order these children were sent away too physically work on state owned farms located at The Florida School for Boys at Marianna. In addition these same children were used by the local Marianna, Jackson County community working on ranches and unloading railroad cars for as long as twelve hours a day without any pay whatsoever. That in itself was terrible but nothing compared to what was happening behind closed doors at the institution. Many boys disappeared during the night and were never heard from again.

Over the past decade, hundreds of men have come forward to tell gruesome stories of abuse and terrible beatings they suffered at Florida’s Dozier School for Boys, a notorious, state-run institution.

Nicknamed the “White House Boys” after a small but infamous building on school property, called the White House, where violent punishments were meted out, the men have described vicious beatings and mistreatment at the hands of school administrators.

Closed since 2011, the reform school was located in the small panhandle town of Marianna, Fla., and served as a bleak destination for troublemakers, rule breakers and delinquents. In the 1900s, hundreds of boys were sent to the school — some never left.

Historical records show that nearly 100 boys ages 6 to 18 died at the school between 1900 and 1973. Many are not identified and were buried in unmarked locations. Researchers from University of South Florida, led by forensic anthropologist Erin Kimmerle, have spent the past three years exhuming human remains from the school’s land, ultimately discovering 51 sets of remains. The final report  says “in total, 55 burials were located … at the former reform school.”

Some were screwed up kidssent to the reform school in Marianna for smoking, fighting, stealing cars or worse. The Florida School for Boys — that’d straighten them out. Fifty years later they are, by their own account, screwed-up men — afraid of the dark, unable to love or be loved, twisted by anger, scarred by the whippings they endured in a cinder-block hell called the White House.

The Florida School for Boys, also known as the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys (AGDS), was a reform school operated by the state of Florida in the panhandle town of Marianna from January 1, 1900, to June 30, 2011. For a time, it was the largest juvenile reform institution in the United States. A second campus was opened in the town of Okeechobee in 1955. Throughout its 111-year history, the school gained a reputation for abuse, beatings, rapes, torture, and even murder of students by staff. Despite periodic investigations, changes of leadership, and promises to improve, the allegations of cruelty and abuse continued. Many of the allegations were confirmed by separate investigations by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement in 2010 and the Civil Rights Division of the United States Department of Justice in 2011. State authorities closed the school permanently in June 2011. At the time of its closure it was a part of the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice.

 I knew well there were dead boys buried there. We had heard their moans at night.
Running up that hill after dark terrified every one of us. We’d run as fast as we could just knowing we were going to be caught by a ghost. We were told by our cottage father to never, ever go in those woods because of the burials.
I can still taste that fear today it still scares me after 55 years. I want to go there one more time to put all my old fears to rest. Let me travel my old path once more please….

Mike S.
(a White House Boy – referring to the “White Side” of the campus, where no cemetery has been found “yet”. )

Following revelations from former inmates who had been incarcerated at the school in the 1950s and 1960s, who described themselves as “The White House Boys,” the school was the subject of an extensive special report, For Their Own Good, published by the St. Petersburg Times in 2009. Allegations focusing on the 1960s included claims that one room was used for whipping white boys and another for black boys. The whippings were carried out with a 3-foot-long belt made of leather and metal and were thorough enough that the recipients’ underwear became embedded in their skin. One inmate said that the punishments were severe but justified; another claimed that he had seen a boy trapped in a running laundry dryer at the school and suspected the boy was killed.

One former inmate claimed that he was punished in the white house eleven times, receiving a total of over 250 lashes. Others alleged that they were whipped until they lost consciousness and that the punishments were made harsher for boys that cried. Some former inmates also claimed that there was a “rape room” at the school where they were sexually abused. The complainants said that some of the victims were as young as nine years old.



You didn’t know when it was coming,” says Jerry Cooper, who was sent to the school when he was 16. “These were not spankings. These were beatings, brutal beatings.”

Cooper is 71 now. He was sent to what at the time was called the Florida School for Boys in 1961. He’d been running away from home and hitchhiking when he was picked up by an AWOL Marine driving a stolen car.

A county judge charged him with car theft and sent him to the school. Some of the kids like him were charged with crimes. Cooper says others were there for running away from home or because they didn’t have families.

“A lot of orphans were there that did not have places at times and they were sent to Marianna. They weren’t there for any crime whatsoever,” Cooper says. “But we had many, many boys who was there for smoking in school, that were incorrigible. We weren’t bad kids. We might have needed help in some respect. But that wasn’t the place to find it, I’ll tell you that right now.”

Cooper says he did his best to stay out of trouble, but after several weeks, he learned about the beatings firsthand. School staff got him out of bed at 2 a.m. one day and took him to the White House where he says they threw him on a bed, tied his feet and began beating him with a leather strap.

“The first blow lifted me a foot and a half off that bed,” Cooper recalls. “And every time that strap would come down, you could hear the shuffle on the concrete because their shoes would slide. And you could hear the shoosh, shoosh, bam.”

Cooper passed out, but a boy in the next room later told him he counted 135 lashes.

They spent an average of eight months to a year attending classes and working on the sprawling segregated campus an hour west of Tallahassee. Whites got the better jobs and were allowed recreation, including a wrestling team and a choir. Blacks were subjected to name calling and isolation.

But when it came to the beatings, the men described the same harshness.

Waiting in line to be whipped was unnerving. You’d hear them in there and you’d hear this boom!

Every time they’d hit you, something jumped up in you knowing you’re next.”

Repeated trouble for problems as simple as walking out of line led to the punishment. Showing disrespect or otherwise rebelling earned a quicker trip to the white one-story concrete building where the beatings occurred.

The boys, wearing jeans and T-shirts, were told to lay facedown on a bunk bed’s soiled mattress and bite into a pillow, stained with the tears and blood of those before them.

To keep from hollering, sometimes you had to put your head down in that pillow.”

They were ordered to hold the metal rails of the headboard as they were whipped. They were told not to speak or scream. To let go, to cry out, meant more lashes.

After numerous investigations the State of Florida has always labelled the beatings as nothing more than “spankings.” One man has said, After taken to the White House I was beaten bloody twice; I can say without question that the beatings definitely were not spankings. Most who left the White House Beating Chamber could barely walk for days. Many had to be carried back to their dormitory in wheelbarrows. Some, such as me, had to have their underwear surgically removed at the hospital. Most had to get in the shower and allow warm water to remove their undergarments. Numerous children awakened with bloody sheets and bloody night clothing. Believe me these so called “spanking” were definitely brutal bloody floggings.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement was assigned by the governor to investigate the allegations. As the investigation continued many of the men knew well that the investigation was jaded and canted toward the State of Florida in order to exonerate any civil action which might occur later. It is factual that after fifty or sixty years many of the men’s stories may vary. However, the fact that hundreds of brutal bloody beating, rapes, molestations and possible murders had in fact occurred. If one man stated his beater had on a red shirt and another said he had on a blue shirt; the investigators report would state “What we have here is a bunch of old soldiers who cannot get their war stories straight.”

The fact that more than five hundred men stated that they were beaten bloody held absolutely no credibility whatsoever.

When driving onto the campus one would think it looked like a college campus. Beautiful buildings, manicured lawns, a swimming pool, a football field, hospital, dining hall and at Christmas thousands of cars visited the facility to see the hundreds of decorations and thousands upon thousands of colored lights which decorated the main drive. Yet behind all this beauty there were brutal, horrendous and merciless bloody beatings, molestations, rapes and even murders taking place in a small, thick cement walled building know as The White House. There were many nights when young boys were taken from their cottages screaming and crying and were raped by the staff. Many of these boys never returned to their cottages and were never heard from again.

They just simply disappeared; some were as young as five.

DO YOU REMEMBER THIS BOY? GREGORY SAMPSON? THIS IS A VERY IMPORTANT MESSAGE FROM JEFFREY SAMPSON WHO IS LOOKING FOR ANY INFO ABOUT WHAT HAPPENED TO HIS BROTHER, GREGORY SAMPSON, WHILE AT FLORIDA SCHOOL FOR BOYS IN 1965 (He was 12/turning 13 years old) This is a picture of my brother, Gregory Sampson, just before going to Dozer in 1965. He arrived at Dozier on March 16th 1965 and turn 13 on the 17th of March 65. He came home in the end of Oct or 1st of Nov of 65 in a wheel chair, a patch over right eye, could not speak, walk, and bearly could move arms. He never recovered and died June 6th 0f 1966. I do not know what he endored at Dozier and I may never know. So rest in peace my dear brother, I still love you and miss you everyday. P.S. He was in Washington Cottage. After his death I admit I went wild. When I got to Dozer not too long after his death, I was told stories about the white house and how they treated my brother. I only wish I could remember the kid's name that knew about him, but It's been a hell of a lot of years ago.

Do You Remember This Boy? Gregory Sampson? This is a very important message from Jeffrey Sampson who is looking for any information about what happened to his brother, Gregory Sampson, while at Florida School for Boys in 1965. (He was 12 turning 13 years old) This is a picture of my brother, Gregory Sampson, just before going to Dozer in 1965. He arrived at Dozier on March 16th 1965 and turn 13 on the 17th of March 65. He came home in the end of Oct or 1st of Nov of 1965 in a wheel chair, a patch over right eye, could not speak, walk, and barely could move arms. He never recovered and died June 6th 0f 1966. I do not know what he endured at Dozier and I may never know. So rest in peace my dear brother, I still love you and miss you everyday. P.S. He was in Washington Cottage. After his death I admit I went wild. When I got to Dozer not too long after his death, I was told stories about the white house and how they treated my brother. I only wish I could remember the kid’s name that knew about him, but It’s been a hell of a lot of years ago.

The following story is the tale that started the investigation into the terrible abuses that occurred at the Marianna and Okeechobee Reform Schools in Florida.

I was about twelve or thirteen years old, when the Duval County Juvenile Court sentenced me to the Florida School for Boys at Marianna for running away from the Children’s Home Society Orphanage in Jacksonville, Florida. Early one morning Doctor Robert Loyal Currie called me to the head office. He told me that I would soon visit the ‘White House,’ which was a torture room for boys who broke one of their many rules or tried to escape. I was sent to the school for trying to escape from the Children’s Home Society orphanage in Jacksonville. I had been incarcerated there for 10 years for the ‘crime’ of having no parents to care for me.

When I heard that they were taking me to this ‘White House,’ an extreme fear came over me. I almost passed out and was trembling so badly that my legs collapsed under me. I fell to the floor and lay there. The men told me to “get my sorry butt up” and sit down on the hard, wooden bench outside the office. I waited there for the two men who would take me to the ‘White House.’ I knew their routine well, as I had heard about it from many other boys who were taken there. Other than the time I learned that I had cancer and would die within six months, I have never known more fear than when I was told I was going to be taken to this place.

After a wait of about 30 minutes, these two men came to get me. They grabbed me by my arms and lifted me off the bench. There were several other boys in the office with me, so I had to try to act as though I was not scared, but they knew. The two men walked with me across the grass circle that divided the offices from the ‘White House.’ We stopped at another office and a man, Troy Tidwell took the place of one of the men holding me. We continued walking toward the mess hall. As we rounded the building, I could see it right in front of me: ‘THE WHITE HOUSE.’

My mind was just going crazy with fear. My thoughts seemed to be swimming in a circle, like a cat that had been thrown into a cold river. I was so scared, I could not think straight. Words were coming from my mouth before my mind could think of what it was I was attempting to say. I was trying to decide if I should run and hide or maybe kill myself. Anything was better than what was going to happen in there.

When we reached the door, one of the men took out his keys and stuck one into the lock. I looked back over my shoulder and I saw about 50 boys. They stared in silence. As the door opened, an ungodly odor filled my nose and I could hardly breathe. I remember trying to step through the doorway, but the odor was so overwhelming that I fell in the short hallway inside. One of the men grabbed me by the back of the shirt collar and jerked it up around my neck, choking me. One of the buttons fell off my shirt and hit the floor, rolling very slowly around the corner. Almost everything was happening in slow motion. My whole body was just numb and it was very difficult for me to breathe. I tried to pull the shirt down from around my neck, but the man jerked it once again and hit me on the top of the head with his knuckles. I hit the floor again and bloodied my nose from the impact. At that point, I was not walking at all; my legs would not work.

The two men picked me up and carried me into a small room, which had nothing in it except a bunk bed and a pillow. They put me down on the floor and ordered me to lie on the bed facing the wall. Crying, I pulled myself up onto the edge of the bed and wiped the blood from my nose onto my shirtsleeve. When I looked up at the men’s faces, they were plain, cold and hard. They had no expression whatsoever. I did what they told me to do. One of them said to move my hands to the top of the bunk bed and grab the bar at the headboard. I did so as quickly as I could. Not one sound could be heard. I felt one of the men reach under the pillow and slowly pull something out. I turned over quickly and looked at the one who was standing near me. He had a large leather strap in his hand.

“Turn your God damn head back toward the wall!” he yelled.

I knew what was going to happen and it was going to be very bad. I had been told what to expect by some of the boys, who were taken to the ‘White House.’ I never heard from some of them again.

I also heard that this giant strap was made of two pieces of leather, with a piece of sheet metal sewn in between the halves. Again, everything was dead silent. I remember tightening my buttocks as much as I could. Then I waited and waited, and waited. I remember someone taking a breath, then a footstep. I turned over very quickly and looked toward the man with the leather strap. There was an ungodly look on his face and I knew he was going to beat me to death. I will never forget that look for as long as I live.

I tried to jump off the bed, but I was knocked backward when the leather strap hit me on the side of the face. I jumped to the end of the bunk and began trying to climb up the cement wall but there was nowhere to climb. Mr. Hatton kept beating me with the leather strap about the chest, back and legs. The men grabbed me, pulled me down and held me to the floor. I was yelling to God to save me, begging for someone, anyone, to help. There was blood all over everything. It was everywhere.

“Please forgive me! Please forgive me,” I repeated at the top of my voice. “Please forgive me! Dear God, please help me!”

But it didn’t do any good; God didn’t hear me that day. Maybe He was smart enough not ever to enter the White House, even to save a child.

After about five minutes of begging, pleading and crying, they told me to get back on the bed and grab the top rail again. They warned that if I tried to get off the bed, the whole thing would repeat from the beginning. I slowly pulled myself up off the floor and got back onto the bed. Again, I grabbed the rail and waited; everything became quiet, except for the two men breathing really hard. Once again, I tightened up my buttocks and waited.

Then all of a sudden, it happened. I thought my head would explode. The thing came down on me over and over. I screamed and kicked and yelled as much as I could, but it did no good. He just kept beating me over and over. However, I never let go of that bed rail. Then there was nothing. The next thing I remember, I was walking into Doctor Currie’s Office and the secretary asked me who I was. I was so bloodied that she could not recognize me. Minutes later, still in a stupor, I was taken to Mr. Hatton’s office. I was sitting on a wooden bench in the one-armed man’s office. I remember wiping the slobber and blood from my mouth. My body felt like it was on fire. I stood and found that I hardly could.

God, God, God, it hurt badly. I will never forget that until the day I die.

One of the men in the office yelled at me to sit down. I told him that I had to go to the bathroom really bad. He pointed at a doorway and said that it was the bathroom; he told me to “make it quick.”

“I’m gonna tell somebody about what you people are doing around here when I get out of here one day,” I mumbled.

“Talk like that around here will have you wake up dead tomorrow morning, sonny boy,” said the man, as he squinted his eyes and pointed his finger at me.

I slowly walked into the bathroom and closed the door. I looked in the mirror. There was dried blood all over my black and blue face, my hair and in my mouth. I took my torn shirt off, which was hanging from the waistband of my pants and then I turned around and looked into the mirror. My back was black and blue, and also bloody. I almost panicked out of my mind when I saw my reflection. I looked like a monster. I started to cry, but I covered my mouth with both hands so no other boys would hear me. I loosened my belt buckle to get my pants down. It was very painful, but the worst was yet to come. Once they were down, I noticed that my legs were all bloody and my skin was black in color.

I stood over the toilet and tried to urinate, but it just would not come out. I decided to take my underwear down and sit on the toilet until I could go, but the underwear would not come off; it was stuck to my rear end and legs. The cotton material had been beaten into the skin of my buttocks and was dried with blood. I pulled my pants back up and washed my face, mainly because I did not want the other boys to see that I had been crying. I was so scared that I could not stop shaking.

Finally, I walked back into the outer office and saw Mr. Sealander, my cottage house parent, standing by the doorway. He took me back to my cottage. He called the office to complain about what happened to me. Then he took me to the hospital where the old nurse, Ms. Womack, and Doctor Wexler sutured up the tears to my buttocks and soaked me in Epsom salts. With tweezers, she pulled the remaining pieces of underwear from my skin. Then she petted that big, ugly cat of hers and sent me away.

Why was this done to me?

I never knew until years later, why I was beaten like that. They did it because I said ‘shit’ when I slipped on the diving board at the pool. I do not even remember saying that kind of word. I never was a boy who cursed.

I will never forget for as long as I will live, that vicious beating done to me without even knowing why. I will never forget the monster that I saw in the mirror that day. I will never forget what adults are capable of doing to a child. I will never forget that the State of Florida was behind what happened to me and to many, many other boys – just for running away from an abusive orphanage.

I do not hold any grudges against those men. If Mr. Hatton had not beaten me, another man would have done the job. Those were the rules. To them, it was a job they were paid to do. However, I have always wondered if R. W. Hatton was ever troubled the least little bit by that beating. I have always wondered if Doctor Currie, the psychologist, got a sexual thrill out of putting a 12 or 13-year-old boy in his place in that manner.

I spoke with Mr. Troy Tidwell on the telephone on February 11, 1999. He is now 72 years old and still lives in Marianna, Florida. I asked him if he could locate Mr. Sealander. He and I joked about the past and had a few laughs together. I’m sure he had no idea who I was. He may not even remember that far back, although I think it is more likely that he does. How could someone not remember beating little boys like that?

I thank you for caring, Mr. Sealander. Wherever you are, I want to thank you for your kindness and understanding. Because of that one kind deed, I have learned to trust, respect and take the word of my fellow man. Thank you for being kind to me and making me feel that I was worth something to someone. I will always remember, respect and love you for that kindness.

I wish to end this story by thanking the individuals, whoever you are who had the heart, compassion and guts to stop these horrible evil deeds committed by the State of Florida. Though there is very little doubt in my mind that such things are still happening even today.

NOTE: I would like to make one addition to the story which I did not add above. I was asked to lie down on the bed, face the wall and bite into the dirty, bloody pillow and I did as instructed. When the first blow was struck, the leather strap hit my buttocks but the end of the strap continued on and hit me in the right side of my waist. It was like I had been hit with a red hot branding iron. The same type I had seen used to brand cattle on Owen Bolton’s Rainbow K Ranch in Silt, Colorado when I was a young boy. When that strap hit me I actually smelled the burning of cattle hide within a second after being hit. All I could think about was that one cow that caught fire and ran off into the brush. Off the bed I jumped screaming at the top of my voice; the entire time thinking my body had caught fire. That is a fear I still live with even to this day.

Florida Industrial School for Boys at Marianna. To date fifty-five young children’s bodies have been recovered in the deep woods of Marianna, Florida and there are several hundred more young children’s bodies that will never be located.

Florida Industrial School for Boys at Marianna. To date fifty-five young children’s bodies have been recovered in the deep woods of Marianna, Florida and there are several hundred more young children’s bodies that will never be located.


I was sent to FSBO during 1966 for being recalcitrant. I was a product of a dysfunctional family. On a scale if 1 to 10 a very expensive and reputable treatment hospital called it 13 to 14. While in the Sarasota county jail awaiting transport to FSBO I attempted suicide. No treatment was provided.

At the school I was exposed and endured the same dysfunction I knew from home. Cottage fathers would make us form a circle and fight with boxing gloves for their enjoyment. Similar to dog fights. I was beaten at the library. Lying on an army cot and lashed 35 times. Holding the bed was taking the beating without murmuring a sound. The boy who went before me whose name was Banks bore the abuse without a sound. I wasn’t able to do it, I moaned. I suffered for about ten days after the flogging.

Perhaps, if the state had provided compassionate insightful counsel and positive examples of an alternative approach to life many of us might not have been sent to prison or worse an early death. After my release I graduated from high school and became a soldier during the Vietnam war. Lacking in social skills I experienced more abuse from the US Government. At twenty one fresh out of the Army I tried college for awhile. Money. Worked odd jobs. Met some fellow vets formed a family of choice and began to grow and mature. To date I have spent a tremendous amount of money to mental health counsellors and treatment centers. Trust of authority is difficult to this day.

The abuses of my past were stopped when I delivered my daughter at my home. I have two wonderful granddaughters. However, the true enjoyment and zest for life alludes me to this very day. Deep down inside I feel the same fear I’ve felt of my family and FSBO. I am resentful that the state of Florida knew and allowed the abuse of so many children.

Today I am a registered nurse. Compassion is something I know of. The state of Florida did not have any compassion for the children that were in their custody.




I was living in Tallahassee, FL at the age of 13.  I was hanging out with some boys from my school,  We would go to the swimming hole after school.  I liked it there, so I would go there and miss school some times.  One day I was going home after being there all day.  School just got out, and this policeman stopped me.  He said, “Boy, where have you been”.   I said I’d been at school and he said you did not go to school today.  He said,  “I’ve been seeing you going to that swimming hole. You have not been going to school.”   He said, “Get in my car.  I’m going to take you home.”

Well, I got in his car and he went the wrong way.  I asked him where he was he going and he said he was taking me to jail. He said he would call my Mama when we got to the jail.

I don’t know if he called or not, but I did not see my mama for about 30 days later. I stayed 60 days in the jail.

One day they came and took me to FSB (The Florida Industrial School for Boys).  They didn’t say for how long I would be there.

I was there about 3 weeks and had met a boy and we became friends.   One day I told him I was going to run that night.

I guess he had went and told Mr Baxer what I had said that day. He was the cottage father in Jefferson Cottage.  Well, that night just as i got out of the shower, Mr Baxer said Mr. Tidwell wanted to see me out back. When I got outside, Tidwell asked me why I was talking about running away. I told him that i did not know what he was talking about. i guess that made him mad.  He got up, looked at me, and said, “Let’s take a ride. Go get in the car.

Well, Mr. White pulled up about that time and Tidwell said something to him.  He put me in the car and I knew where we were going.  I had seen some of the boys that been to the whitehouse and their backsides were all black and blue with blood runing down their legs.

We went by two more cottages and picked up 3 more boys.  When we got to the Whitehouse he told me this was for my own good. I was the third boy to go in, but hearing the other boys ahead of me calling out, “Mama, please help me! Oh God help me!”.

Tidwell told me, “Get your ass in here Burns.  You’ll want to run when I got done with you!” I couldn’t move. Mr. White pulled me into the room and told me, “Lay down on that bed boy and look at the wall”. I just knew they were going to beat me bad. I had made Tidwell mad. That’s when he hit me, and it just went on and on.

I got 31 lashes from Tidwell. Tidwell told Mr. White, “You can take over now.  I am tired.” I got  18 more lashes from Mr. White.  Then they made me run back to my cottage. I couldn’t walk, and could not sit for 2 weeks. I was black and blue and had blood running down my legs. Two weeks later Tidwell put me in lock up for three weeks.

White metal crosses mark graves at the cemetery of the former Arthur G Dozier School for Boys. Photograph: Michael Spooneybarger/Reuters.

White metal crosses mark graves at the cemetery of the former Arthur G Dozier School for Boys. Photograph: Michael Spooneybarger/Reuters.

Joseph Johnson was 3 when he was sent to a foster home.

When he was 6 his mother was killed.

At 12, he was beaten so badly by his stepmother Florida authorities removed him from her care. A judge sent the child to a place that sounded like a haven — the new Florida School for Boys at Okeechobee.

There the real hell began. For 10 months, three weeks, four days and some 10 hours, the boy lived in fear. He was beaten, tormented, molested. Struck so often and so hard with a 2 ½-foot-long, 5-inch-wide leather paddle that blood soaked his blue jeans. He got no medical help.

Long after he escaped Okeechobee the emotional and mental pain festered. For years he tried washing out the hurt with alcohol. Eventually he coped by confronting the past and with ongoing therapy and medication. Now the Army veteran and retired truck driver is telling his story. He talks of the abuse, of his helplessness and abiding anger at the men who tormented children.

Johnson was sent to a second school some 400 miles south of Marianna. Surrounded by a swamp full of gators and snakes.

“I learned at an early age you can’t forget the past,” he says. “I realized you can’t live in the past. But you cannot forget it. … I am not going to forget. I haven’t been able to.”

Before he was 12 and sent to “hell on earth,” Joseph Leo Johnson endured a tumultuous childhood marred with loss.

He was 3 in 1949 when his mother Dorothy was hospitalized in a Michigan sanatorium after contracting tuberculosis. Dorothy, husband Clyde and their five children, ages 12 to 6 months, lived in Belleville near Detroit.

With Dorothy away and over Clyde’s protests, Michigan authorities put their children in foster homes. A terrified Joseph ran away, climbed in a church steeple and, exhausted, fell asleep. His brother Bob, 8, found him.

Dorothy came home after two and a half years, cured of TB. The family reunited; Dorothy and Clyde had a sixth child.

Then Dorothy died. Clyde was driving his wife and their 6-month-old son in his new Packard when the car caught fire. As Clyde tried to extinguish the fire Dorothy handed her baby to a woman who stopped to help, then attempted to flag down help when a truck driver hit her. It was 1953; Joseph Johnson was 6.

Within a year he had a stepmother whose strict rules and severe punishments included locking him in a closet. Eventually the family moved to Sarasota, Fla. The move didn’t help.

In Florida Johnson got poor grades so he skipped school. For solace he sneaked into a neighborhood Catholic church. Dorothy Johnson had been Catholic; she’d sometimes taken young Joseph to Mass. Sometimes, in the Florida church, “I would pray to God, ‘Why did you let my mother die?’ ” he says.

When he was 12 and his stepmother again beat him, he ran. Two sheriff’s deputies saw Johnson on a downtown Sarasota street, noticing blood stains on the back of his shirt. They stopped to help. One assured the child, “Whoever did this to you is never going to do it to you again.”

The next day the family was before a judge who told Joseph Johnson he could help. He’d send him to the Florida School for Boys at Okeechobee. It sounded wonderful.

“He told me, ‘I can put you in a home where you won’t be beaten,’ ” Johnson recalls. “’You can go to school; you can go horseback riding; you can play ball; you can even learn a trade…. . It’s a marvelous place; it’s brand new.’” Some Okeechobee boys, the judge said, had stolen cars or broken in houses. But most were like Johnson. They needed a home “and somebody that’s going to help them.”

“The judge said, ‘But if you don’t want to go there, I’m not going to send you.’ I’m saying to myself, ‘What kid wouldn’t want to go there? ’ ”

To this day Johnson thinks the judge believed the glowing Okeechobee report he gave. Johnson says he couldn’t have been more wrong.

Each of the school’s dormitory-like cottages housed 15 to 20 boys ages 10 to 17. The campus included a dining hall, auditorium and dairy farm. School was a windowless room where Johnson completed pages in a workbook twice a week. Other days he worked, first at the dairy barn and then, six days a week, in the kitchen. A baseball field got little use. He never saw anyone bounce a ball on the basketball court. There was no horseback riding.

There was, attached to the auditorium, a small building he knew as “the adjustment center.” There Johnson says he was beaten twice. Each time he was forced face down onto a dirty cot. His hands were cuffed to one end of the bed; his legs chained to the other.

He was first beaten for fighting. He got 20 lashes across his buttocks with the leather paddle. “It seemed like forever. It was at least 10, 15 minutes,” he says. Blood soaked his jeans before he was unchained and ordered to walk to his cottage. His only medical treatment was a wet towel handed him by a friend, a boy named Howard. He learned to pull off his pants carefully and later, as wounds healed, to dress without ripping the scabs.

Some Saturdays Okeechobee employees entered one of the cottages, ordered a cot hauled to its shower room and lined the boys up. One at a time the boys were taken for a shower-room beating. Johnson escaped that torture. But he couldn’t always escape his predators.

Sexual abuse was “rampant.” He rebuked one employee but couldn’t stop the attack of another who stalked the campus at night. That man molested him twice, once wrapping an arm across the boy’s throat. “I knew he would have killed me,” Johnson says. “I was never so scared in my life. But I wasn’t a willing participant; he moved on to somebody else.”

His second beating chained to the adjustment center cot was worse than his first. A snitch wrongly informed guards he and Howard were going to run away. This time he was hit 40 to 50 times, then tossed into solitary confinement. For some 10 days he existed in a small room with a toilet in the corner, a light bulb in the ceiling and a window slot. He got a daily gallon of water and ground-up food in a bowl. He hurt so he didn’t try to sit for three or four days.

Some boys were beaten so badly they couldn’t walk. Half a dozen times Johnson saw guards bring a beaten boy to the cottage, putting the child face down on his cot.

One day at dusk he spotted men dragging a beaten boy from the adjustment center to the rear seat of the school’s 1958 black Ford station wagon. They drove toward the campus tool shed. In a nearby field the next day he saw a freshly dug grave. But the boys were told dairy cows were buried there.

“We always told each other — it was a common comment — ‘If you don’t be careful, where you gonna wind up? Right over there in that ground with so-and-so. You know that’s where they put him. They beat him to death and put him over there,’ ” he says.

One October day in 1959 he was surprised when called to the school office. His brother Bob, who’d found him 10 years before in that church steeple, had come. Wearing his U.S. Marine blues and holding legal papers, Bob was now Joseph’s guardian. It took some wrangling but Joseph left Okeechobee with Bob.

Fifty miles up the road he forgot his promise to God. When Bob bought a Budweiser six-pack 13-year-old Joseph opened a can. “From that day on I started drinking. I was always trying to forget Okeechobee,” he says.

He lived his teen years afraid Florida authorities would drag him back. For a few months he felt safe living with Bob at Cherry Point, N.C. Then the military shipped Bob overseas. Homeless, Joseph began hitchhiking to California to stay with an older sister. He never made it.

By January 1960 the almost 14-year-old was penniless, hungry and cold in New Orleans. He got work unloading trucks at the docks. At night he slept in the Cathedral Basicilia St. Louis King of France, stretching on a bench near a comforting statue of the Virgin Mary. One day he woke to see a priest standing beside his bench. With help from the priest and others, he rented a room, found employment, enrolled in school and attended church.

“I felt God delivered me from Okeechobee and I let him down but he gave me another chance,” he says. “Every Sunday I was in church. I was afraid if I broke my promise again I would wind up back in Okeechobee.”

Yet he lived a lie those three years in New Orleans. He pretended to be his brother Bob. Only the priest knew the truth. A tall, lanky 14-year-old in March 1960, he looked older than his age. He could use Bob’s identification; his brother’s wallet was mixed with his own belongings. The deception gave him some security Okeechobee wouldn’t find him.

“I always thought as a kid somehow they could get me back. … And I would never get out of that place.”

For years Johnson tried burying Okeechobee in anger and alcohol. He suffered from depression. “I wanted to go back there a lot of times and just kill every one of them.”

He confided in Linda shortly after they married in 1963. For more than 40 years she was his only counselor and confidant. He kept silent “because who would believe people would do this to children?”

Okeechobee first broke Johnson’s nerves in 1965; what happened there was the deepest layer under newer pain. He joined the Army the fall after he married Linda, and he blamed himself for a 1964 military accident that badly injured — and he believed for years killed — his sergeant. Then in 1965 the Johnsons’ infant son died days after his premature birth. “Everything cracked,” Johnson says. “It just kept mounting until all the dominoes fell down.” His anguish would hospitalize him six times through 1990.

Years after he left Okeechobee, he tried to repay God for his deliverance. In 1990 he began a church music ministry that’d last 22 years. He’d learned to play guitar in New Orleans. Music was his talent “to give back to God. I wanted to show Him I not only remembered what He had done for me but I wanted to give Him all I had.”

Finally, 37 years after he left Okeechobee, he returned. In 1996 he and Linda went with friends — one now a Catholic priest — to confront the past. The state no longer ran the school. Not only did the then-superintendent confirm his memories of abuse, say Joseph and Linda Johnson, he opened a desk drawer to show the cuffs, chains and paddle used on Johnson and others. Though Johnson at first had to be coaxed from the car, the trip helped him. “He was really putting it behind him,” Linda Johnson says.

The anguish returned when he saw a 2012 news broadcast about abuse allegations at Dozier. That’s when he became part of the White House Boys. “We are all telling the same story,” he says. “None of us could dream up a lie like that and tell the same lie over and over.”

His nightmares still haunt him. In one he hears a school employee with a wooden leg thump down a hall. In another he’s that limp, perhaps dead, boy being dragged into the school’s black Ford.

While he’s forgiven the stepmother whose beating sent him there he cannot forgive the men who tormented him at Okeechobee. He would like to receive one day an official apology signed by Florida’s governor. Today, as a White House Boy, Johnson says he speaks for the men who still cannot and the boys who never will. “This is what these people did to us. We were children; we didn’t deserve this.”

Many any of the human remains found at the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys, Florida’s first juvenile detention center for boys, were buried over a century ago. But questions about their identities—and what exactly happened at this notorious school—have remained alive throughout the center’s brutal history. Who is buried in the school’s many graves, and how did they die?

Now, thanks to a new report by archaeologists and forensic anthropologists from the University of South Florida, some answers have finally emerged. NPR’s Laura Wagner writes that an investigation of the Marianna, Florida institution, which only closed in 2011, has revealed scores of marked and unmarked graves and sets of remains. In the report, researchers discuss work that revealed 55 on-site graves and 51 sets of remains. Using the remains they did find on site, they made seven DNA identifications and 14 other presumptive matches.

The report is the final step in a four-year process of excavation and archaeological exploration at the school.

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Archaeologists Finally Know What Happened at This Brutal Reform …

Bodies Found At Dozier Boys’ School Identified, Families May Get …

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