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Blue Thomas

In 1960 I was 12 years old, and was told by my Mother, after sheíd had an argument with my Dad, that he was not my real Father but to tell him "I love you" anyway. I was the oldest of five kids then, of course I loved him, and he was all I had remembered as a Dad. I was never in any serious trouble up to that point. I wanted to forget that had even happened, although I didnít and I believe it affected me a lot. My school grades became a problem, fights with other kids, being grounded. I ran away from home three times. I was taken to Jacksonville, Fla. Juvenile shelter in early November 1962.

December 6, 1962 before daylight, another boy named Johnny Jackson and I was handcuffed and leg shackled, loaded into a dark sedan with two men. We drove a long time then stopped at a hole in the wall restaurant. We were marched into the restaurant in cuffs and shackles, while getting a lot of stares, we used the facilities, then each of us (Johnny Jackson and I) sat against the wall hemmed in by each man and had a meal. They only took our handcuffs off. We were re-cuffed, reloaded and returned to the road.

Somewhere around 10:30 am we arrived to see the sign: Florida School for Boys, Marianna, Florida. We drove up the long entrance, trees, grass, two story brick buildings on the left, a church off to the right, more buildings. We pulled up to this building (Administration Bldg.), we got out, went in, our cuffs and shackles taken off and were told to sit in this building until we were called. I stared out any and all windows trying to see anything that would clue me in to what I was in for. I had no idea; no kids at the shelter had been here. I was 14 years old, Jackson about the same. I was naive, average, parted my hair, and wore tennis shoes. All that ended December 6, 1962.I was called, talked to different people, was asked questions, sent to the hospital for a physical inspection, height, weight, etc .I was then sent to the supply house, and was outfitted with clothes, 3 white shirts, 3 work shirts, 3 pair of state pegs ( pants ) , 3 pair state socks, a pair of boots, a comb, toothbrush, 3 state t-shirts, 3 pair of state shorts, 1 state sweater, and 1 P-coat. The coat, military surplus as well, the work shirts army khaki, some work boots were WWII suede combat boots.

That afternoon Jackson and I were split up and I didnít see him much anymore, only from time to time as he was assigned a different building than I. I was escorted that afternoon to my building. It seemed like a long walk down the sidewalk past four 2 story buildings, crossing a small paved road to a new one story brick building down the sidewalk, turning left, coming in to the rear, where on my right was a swing bar, a horizontal bar, parallel bars, some weights, a red packed clay basketball court, and four benches lined up in front of the court parallel with the building painted green. Bombers, Gators, Lions, and Tigers were the team names. I was later assigned to the Bombers bench. I went inside to the game room of which was a good size room that had a ping pong table in it, a big Florida map on the wall with flag tags with names on them placed in every town an existing boy was from. To the left you entered a kind of hall; there was an information/status board. Among items was a printed sheet of paper with all the boysí names and ranks. The ranks were Rookie for 4 weeks with no trouble or write ups; Explorer for 4 weeks; Pioneer this was the rank to main for 28 weeks, to br eligible to be posted for a dated release, barring any trouble or write-ups. The next rank to be reached if you wanted was Pilot, entering the ranking system as stated: Rookie with 4's, then Explorer with 4's, then Pioneer with 4's. If you put out extra effort a t the cottage and school and crew, each one had its own scoring per week per boy, you would earn 5's. It had to be all three, for 5 weeks and, the week you would be promoted to Pilot (with Pilot there were extra privileges, extra movies, visits). Evan more effort to get 6's all around for 3 weeks you became Ace, with even more perks and an early release. There werenít too many Aces and not so many Pilots either. An amazing shortest run to Ace in my cottage got out in just over 7 months. He was actually a good guy that didnít really suck up or puke (rat on someone). He was a short guy named Jimmy Hart who was put in for shooting doves out of season. Yes indeed!!!

Anyway, back to the buildings layout, as you pass the info board, there was a Dutch door, this was the supply room where a designated boy would be inside during certain times when everyone was there. By having the top part of the door open he could issue out soap, towels, wash rags, toothpaste, hair cream (state grease), shoe polish, polish brushes, pencils, pens, paper, etc. There was another single door going out back toward the benches. Then the multiple toilet area on the left, also, continuing on were the open showers, 6 or 8 heads, then finally at the end was a steel lockable door to the locker room, lockers 5' high all the way around. My locker was #485, on the right side as you entered by the door. Coming back out the way you came, you walked by the shower, the head, and a doorway on your left which is now toward the front of the building, was a big dormitory room full of bunks. All were made the same way, white sheets, white bedspread, military wool blanket, folded at the foot, last a Bible of a tilt against the middle of the pillow, with the bottom of the Bible resting on the mattress. The bedspread and top sheet folded back 2 Bible lengths, sheets were made with proper hospital corners, the sheets were to be tight. The pillow centered and one Bible thickness distance from the head rail. The mattress was somewhat transparent with tight sheet the mattress was marked top left corners, X on one side, O on the other. Each the marked side to show was called out. If you didnít flip your mattress and got caught you would visit hell for awhile with various punishments. Moving on there was another door that let out into another room straight across from the start, the game room. This was the TV room.

The cottage Father as they were referred to, who was on duty and met me in the game room was Mr. Robert Hamilton. His living quarters were on that side. The other Cottage Father that I would meet was Mr. McDuffie. They alternated days on and full weekend duty. Mr. Hamilton took my paperwork from the office escort, dismissed the escort. He assigned me my locker #485, told me to dump all the clothes and stuff issued on the ping pong table. He told me and explained where in and out of bounds was, he explained the bench assignment, which for me was to be the Bombers. This building is called Cleveland. He took me back to the locker room, showed me my locker, then opened another and said, "This is what your locker had better look like before chow call." He then took me back to the ping pong table and showed me how pants, shirts, and socks are to be folded. Pants bottom, then shirts, then T-shirts, then socks. They are to be straight up and down. There was a locker inspection every morning and some nights and bed inspection every morning, full dress inspection every morning. Boots are to be polished, no holes in clothing, no buttons missing, shirt tails in, brass web belts will be polished and worn, collars down, hair cut every two weeks. The rest I learned from others, or through time and experience.

I got all my clothes sorted and folded, put in my locker. All my clothes had a number and Cleveland in them. Laundry went out in bulk twice a week, once for clothes and the other for sheets and towels. My clothing number was my locker number, 485.

It was about 30 minute later when the guys showed up. They looked at me and I looked at them. I saw some of the guys start sitting on the benches. I went out to the Bombers bench and three guys were sitting there, spaced, I told them I was assigned this bench, where should I sit? They said at the end, new guys sit on the left end and work their way left with seniority. Soon everyone was sitting. Mr. Hamilton came out and started calling out benches to line up for chow. The calling out always changed or semi-rotated. On this day the Bombers were called out last. We lined up in columns of twos and the Cottage Father does a head count and says "move out". Another guy and I are the last in line, the Cottage Father walks to the side and behind to keep a visual overlook, next to the Cottage named Pierce Hall (who was behind our building up the hill, left). We had the longest walk to chow hall. I saw other Cottages going in and coming out, most were the same age and some older. Pierce Hall had the youngest; a couple of them 9 and 10, none of them were over 12. We came back and were told "fallout". Some guys took care of their boot shining, some watched TV, some wrote letters, some lifted weights, some shot basketball, some did button sewing on their clothes. Mail call sounded, I knew there wouldnít be anything for me, but I watched as boys got letters from mostly their parents or siblings. All were opened and censored, as well as any you wrote. I wrote once, and my Mother wrote once after I first got there and said ďHave a Merry Christmas." The Christmas of 62-63 was my first Christmas away from home, it was hard on me, I felt totally thrown away. To this day I never had another Christmas at what used to be called home.

Soon it was shower call, 6 or 8 guys were called for shower every 10-15 minutes, 6 or so were called till all were done. There was a constant of about 25 to 30 guys at all times in Cleveland. It was strange to be naked in front of so many boys and the Cottage Father who supervised the showers for control, hygiene, and sometimes amusement Iím sure. After that we slowly filtered into the dormitory. Soon tou heard the locker room being locked down, supply room locked down, all the exterior doors locked down, all lights except dormitory went out, and the Cottage Father came in, did a head count, said "knock it off-lights out". He would go back to his quarters and leave his door ajar. They would make head counts 3-4 times a night with fire drills thrown in at various early am times, sometimes twice a week. Around 10:00 pm I heard taps. I cried. 0530 came early with Mr. McDuffie hollering, blowing a whistle. "Hit the deck you bunch of yellow sap-sucking son of bucks. Flip them bunks-I better see Xís today or Iíll know why! 20 minutes to fall in for chow. Letís go!! Letís go!! Letís go!!" You had 20 minutes to strip and flip your mattress, remake it, go to the head, get dressed, brush teeth, comb hair, and get on your bench. I managed that, we went to chow, came back, fell out for a short time, and re-assembled for inspection. A few got called out for minor infractions, and then we formed up in twos, marched to the central area. On the way, the bugler hit on flag bugle. Everyone stops and faces toward the flag. Everyone is to be still and quiet till itís over; otherwise you receive a serious "write up". Then we were told to "fallout" of which the guys then go to school or crew. I had been told to return to the administration building. I went there and was told I was going to be escorted over there, and I was told I would be there until the day was over. Tomorrow I was to return again to the administration building and would be placed in the school system. I was escorted by an older guy named Paul Knowles who was the school bugler. He carried it always. I went to the print shop, was started out on a Heidelberg Press of which you could manually control the speed. I started off making note pads. The day ended, I found my way back to Cleveland and repeated everything over as the night before. The next day Paul Knowles escorts me over to the school. I ask him about that bugle. Making small talk he said he learned it from a former bugler. I ask him how long it took and he said not real long. He asked if I could play it. I said no, that I blew on a couple of horns at school. He told me to put my hand over it and to make some noise. I did and it sounded like a cavalry charge. He seemed impressed, asked if I was interested in learning and being able to replace him when he left. I expressed interest (but being new) I wasnít sure. He told me he would find me soon and see if I wanted to try it out.

I got out of school and was placed in a class. I was given books to study, reports to write, test given and taken. I started getting the routine down, things kind of figured out.

At Cleveland Cottage about a week later the pecking order started to show with comments made from other guys, like I looked raggedy, walked like a square. I was there about 2 weeks when this short guy said something I didnít like in the locker room and bumped into me. Since I was by the entry door, I turned and pushed him and said "leave me alone." I turned back to my locker, finished what I was doing, closed my locker, turned around and was hit right in the mouth and nose. I put my hands up only for a second blow to glance off my wrist into the side of my head. I couldnít see as my eyes watered, my nose and mouth were bleeding, but I reached for him, grabbed him and went to the floor. He was like a mad little bee, hitting me everywhere but I was finally pinning him when the guys did the alert signal that the Cottage Father was coming. We jumped up and split apart. When Mr. McDuffie came in he asked Ďwhatís going on?" He was looking directly at me since I was bloody. I told him the locker room door hit me when I turned from my locker and I fell down. He looked around then back at me and said "go clean up and no more problems." Well I clearly lost the fight somewhat but I didnít puke out (rat) on the guy who hit me, so I made some points with the guys, but not enough.

The next day at lunch time, the bench line up worked out to where the guy that I fought with was behind my bench when his bench lined up. Naturally I was the last in a column of twos. Well, the guy temporally traded places with another and was right behind me. We were told to "move out" the line was completely moving when I was taking a step the foot that was up was kicked by him over to my other leg and I fell out of line to the ground. I got up quickly and hit him in the face. I hear my name being yelled out by Mr. Hamilton. He stopped the line and asked me "what was that all about" I said "I donít know." He said, "report to my office after chow, Iím writing you up." After chow I reported to Mr. Hamilton, who was already in the process of writing me up. He told me that fighting is not acceptable and he understood from Mr. McDuffie that there had been an altercation the night before. He said any little thing I do wrong for a month will suffer grave punishment. That week instead of being Rookie 3 weeks, I was Grub with a 0. Now I was worried as some slight mistake would end up bad. Three days later another fight between me and the first guyís friend broke out. He was bigger, meaner, and had been there longer. I lost that fight too, was written up and the next day I was called to the office at 3:30 pm from the print shop. I waited for a long time it seemed. Mr. Davis asked me what my problem was and I told him I didnít know. He told me to wait out in the main office.

It was dark, around 5:30 pm, when the man walked up. I hadnít met him but had heard about him, Mr. Tidwell, one armed Tidwell. A few minutes later Mr. Davis and Mr. Tidwell came out, looked at me and said "letís go". I was filled with fear. I had heard stories of the dreaded White House. Now it was happening. They were on each side of me walking toward the White House. I had seen it before from near the dining hall. We went through a side door, first Mr. Davis, then me, then Mr. Tidwell. We turned into a room, Mr. Davis turned on a very noisy fan. Mr. Davis stood at the end of this bed, told me to lie down on my stomach, facing the wall, keep my feet together, and hold onto the rail. "Donít let go of the rail, donít yell, and donít get off the bed until we say so. Do you hear me?" "Yes sir", I said, and as he was telling me that, Mr. Tidwell was coming into the room. I laid there tense and scared. It seems I didnít have thoughts or senses but I did, they came later. I was trying to hear anything I could over the noise of the fan. There was some kind of talk between them but I couldnít make it out, and in a split second I heard a sound, but it was forgotten by the hard impact strike, pain, and my screaming and coming off that bunk, grabbing my butt. Mr. Davis took hold of me and said ďget on that bed and do what I told you." Mr. Tidwell said "donít get up again or you wonít like what else I can give you." I saw the strap which was 2 Ĺ to 3 inches wide and looked 3 feet long. I laid down crying, grabbed the rail, and was struck again and again. I hollered, I heard the next one coming and out of some reflex my right hand went back to my right but to protect it. I really did wish I hadnít done that as my hand, palm and little finger and wrist took a vicious hit, again crying out with pain. Mr. Tidwell said, "every time you let go of that rail, weíre starting over. Do you hear me?" "Yes sir," I said. I grabbed the rail again, my right hand in pain. He said "one", then "two". I said "please donít hit me more," as I let go with my right hand to hold my butt. He said "you let go....ready...one." I got my hand back to the rail upon the strike of two, "three". Somehow I held the screaming into the pillow. I didnít hear anymore after five, but it kept going on. Some sounds were solid, some were cracks, some went low, and some went high at my waist, and on and on. At some point I felt hands holding my ankles together. I didnít think I could scream anymore but one-arm Tidwell found more somehow. Time was still, the fan noise disappeared. I didnít hear the leather hit the wall before me anymore; all I knew was pain like Iíve never felt before. I didnít notice the bunk bouncing anymore. I felt I couldnít see anymore. PainĖ so much pain. "Did you hear me boy?" Suddenly I realized something was said to me. "No sir," I choked out. Mr. Tidwell said " on your feet unless you want some more." "Yes sir." I thought I could just get up but it took a lot for me to get up and stand. Mr. Tidwell was looking at me. I looked at him. He was holding the strap. He turned his hand and flicked his wrist, caught the end of it with his thumb as it doubled over in toward him. He said, " whatever problem you have that you didnít know what it was, did we get it fixed?" "Yes sir," I said. "Youíre going back to the cottage and get in the shower, as hot as you can stand it, with your clothes on. You take them off and give them to Mr. Hamilton." I walked back, escorted, limping into the shower. The guys were coming back from chow, and were kept away until I was dressed. My shower was hot, it almost didnít feel real, my skivvies and jeans were meshed together with my butt. I had to pull them out of my skin. My butt was busted open in several areas, mainly my right side. It was badly swollen, welts on my upper legs, two distinct welts on my lower back, my right hand swollen with red line marks. Mr. Hamilton told me to put two or three towels down on my bunk, over my sheets. He told me to put my Ďdress out" shorts over my skivvies and leave them on.

I stood in the TV room until bedtime. Some guys asked me about it and how many licks I got, but I really donít know. My guess now is the same as it was 46 years ago, probably 20 or 30. I knew for sure I didnít want any more. The next day was school for me; I bled through my skivvies, shorts, and two towels. My skivvies were stuck to my skin, and werenít fun to pull off. This went on for 4 or 5 days. I couldnít sit down at school, so I stood up in the back until school was over. That night at "shower line" I had to strip off to shower. The guys were waiting to see what my butt looked like----they werenít disappointed as it was swollen, busted, black, purple, and red and the welts on my legs and back were a bonus for them. I was embarrassed and resentful that they could see my condition; for them to tell the ones who didnít get in to see. Though I realized I was accepted, the few guys that didnít seem to care for me outwardly for whatever reason refrained from any displays of dislike.

About two weeks later I was at crew at the print shop when my boss said something to the effect to speed up my press, and I said I was going as fast as I could. He said I needed to be faster. Before I realized how I said it, I said "Iím not going to get my hand smashed to go faster." He asked, "What did you say?" He said, "Iím not putting up with that kind of talk." Nothing else was said. That evening after chow Mr. Hamilton asked me into his office and questioned me about the print shop event. I told him, he said I was going to be written up for "direct disrespect" and being I was Grub in rank I would probably " go down" again the following day. I got really upset and started hollering in anger. Mr. Hamilton told me to go rake the court, something that was usually done every morning. You took the rake, slipped a 5 pound weight on the handle all the way down so it would leave rake grooves in the red dirt. Guys were in the shower line as I was finishing up the court. A small sports car drives up; a man gets out, goes inside, and a few minutes later Mr. Hamilton calls me to his office. He tells me to go on in, and he closes the door. Inside see this man sitting at the desk. He was a thin man with a mustache, short dark hair brushed back; he had a dark blazer coat on with a gold crest. His name was Mr. Sealander. He asked me about the incident at the print shop and my being upset with Mr. Hamilton. I told him what happened and in doing so I got emotional, and started crying, as my butt was still black and blue. I told him I was scared to "go down" again, I said "I donít belong here", trying to think of anything to get me out of the situation. Mr. Sealander said "well, if you donít belong here where DO YOU belong?" I only said "I donít know", which was more truth than not. He told me to wait outside in the game room. I went out and after a few minutes he came out and told me to come with him. He took me to Pierce Hall and told me I was to be in solitary confinement for awhile. I had to take my clothes off, shower, and put on pajamas. A man took me away from Mr. Sealander, down the hall, opened a steel door with a looking glass in it (up high), and told me to go in and "no noise!" He said ďno talking, hollering, crying, and no questions. Youíll be fed when itís time." He closed and locked the door. It was a small room, concrete floor, tile walls that were at least eight feet. A small rectangle solid glass window at ceiling height, a bed, a steel toilet/sink combination, that was it. No TV, radio, books, papers, magazines, only my bunk, my pajamas, socks, and me! I could only see the tree tops. The lights stayed on all the time. I got where I could tell night from day as before dark the outside lights came on which gave the look of daytime, sort of. I slept fitfully that night. Iíd get up, walk back and forth, look and listen. Every once in awhile I would see a head flash by the tiny window or see a pair of eyes looking in, keys rattling as someone walked the hall. Once I heard a kid crying but it didnít last longó mostly silence, except for my thoughts. For the first nights and seemingly days I worried about the "White House". I was lonely, I wasnít loved, I wasnít cared about, I was confined, I was under continued punishment. I cried, cried, and cried even more silently. I quit crying what seemed like hours, I felt broken inside. I never cried again for years. Days went by, suddenly the door unlocked and a man gave me my clothes and boots and told me to get dressed and come out. I got dressed and came out only to see Mr. Tidwell. He said. "I want to know right now if you got your mind right?" "Cause if not weíre going to take a trip to the White House and then youíll be back here for a long time!" Staring at me I said "Yes sir, I wonít be any more trouble sir." He took me to Cleveland and again Mr. Hamilton was on duty. It was about 3:00 pm. Mr. Hamilton told me to sit somewhere and wait till the guys got there. I sat down in the game room staring out the window and outside door. Mr. Hamilton came out of his quarters, and said, "Are you alright?" I said, "Yes sir" I guess I didnít move for nearly an hour, but it only felt like a few minutes. The guys came, we went to chow. I figured out I was in solitary for11 days.

The next day after breakfast Mr. McDuffie told me I was to report to Mr. Davis. I was worried about that as I wasnít sure what for. Mr. Davis told me I was no longer in the print shop, I was going to be in the wood shop. Paul Knowles escorted me there since I didnít know where it was. He said, "Youíre not going to like it because itís hot noisy and hard work." I said, "Well I donít know what else to do but do it." He told me I should ask one of my cottage Fathers for a pass from school on Wednesday at 2:00 pm for the chapel, and try the bugle. He told me one other guy was trying out and that he thought I might be better, pending my range and lung power. I told him I would but wasnít sure I could play it or wanted to.

My first day at wood shop wasnít pleasant; I ran a noisy planer all day except for when I was stacking rough lumber. The second day there I decided to ask for a pass for the bugle try out. I decided to ask Mr. Hamilton instead of Mr. McDuffie. When I asked him, he just kind of half smiled and wrote it out! I said "thanks" and went on. Later at first head count in the bunks he stopped and said "good luck tomorrow." I couldnít believe he was talking to me, I just stared at him, and he moved on with the count. Iíve never forgotten that, as it was the first nice thing said to me in so long I couldnít remember! I tried out and got it, the pastor said I was fairly good with no lessons. I later learned that Paul spoke well of me and told the pastor of my rough start. I didnít want pity or sorrow I just wanted things to be fair. Though I realized in Floridaís juvenile system NOTHING WAS FAIR-------EVER! Time moved on, I became Pioneer rank. I was learning the bugle four times a week, the easiest to learn was CHOW CALL then TAPS, then Assembly. The hardest was Flag Bugle; there were two, raising and lowering, each one slightly different, but distinct. Two month later I was relieved from wood shop for full time tuning in bugle protocol and office boy, unofficially, just like Paul Knowles. The times settled into routine. The boys left me alone, I got along. I did what I was supposed to, transformed into a typical reform school guy. My dress code changed, hair style changed, (I wore the Hollywood style), my walk changed, my attitude changed. I was defiant but subdued in front of superiors. I only saw Mr. Sealander one other time where words were exchanged. About 7 months later he asked how I was. I told him good and thanks, he said "for what?", and I said "you know." He only smiled and walked on. I maintained Pioneer, moved on up the Bomber bench, went on a supervised trip to Marianna town see a movie at night on a bus, Irma La Duce with Jack Lemmon and Shirley McLane, went to the canteen, watched old WWII news reels in the school auditorium, played steal the bacon, capture the flag, learned how to do giants, penny drops, fly awayís, back dismounts on the horizontal bar, sewed buttons on my shirt, polished boots, learned how to fight, but forgot how to love. My story could go on with Marianna as everyone else. For a boy going to Marianna and being average with no trouble, he would be eligible for release at nine months straight Pioneer rankĖno extras. For me, I was in trouble seriously twice, dropped in rank. Somehow I was released after nine months and four days, September 10, 1963.

Mostly, I believe, I was helped out in good time frame by Mr. Sealander and Mr. Robert Hamilton, though I have no proof. For me, my story had a tragic, untold effect on my life. Not as tragic as others, but bad anyway. After my release, three months later, I was in trouble again. This time I went to Okeechobee Reform School, which is my next story.

In closing, I hope some good can come from my story. It is embarrassing, I still feel ashamed and hardly anyone in my life knew about it. I tried to build a better life for myself with not much to work with. My name in Marianna was Smith but at age 19, upon receiving my birth certificate to join the Marines in 1967. My Mother never changed my name legally, so my last name was still Thomas. I decided to keep it and bury some past and some of the person I was. I guess we all want our story told. After talking to Roger Dean Kiser, I hope my story can help someone, not for money or 15 minutes of fame, but for some one from Florida who is now holding the position to say they are sorry for what happened to so many boys in the past.

In honorable mention, there are boys I see in my mind but no names come to me. I apologize that I donít remember and if you made it out of Marianna and Vietnam alive, I hope to hear from you. Jimmy Hart, L.C. Skinner, Mike Fair, William Billy Lord, Larry Hand, Alvin Fields, Donald Rice, possibly Thomas or Raymond Wade, Gary Morris, possibly Charles Xiques, Benny?, Johnny Jackson, Paul Knowles, and Junior Boudreau, 1960-1961. My life and times in Marianna.

Blue Thomas Smith