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James Anderson

There were plenty of rumors going around. One was that Marianna was a bad place to be. Another was that there were rooms in the adjustment wing for those unfortunate enough to have their buttocks split open after a beating. Supposedly they would leave you in confinement long enough for the wounds to heal. Hell, rumor also had it that they would even be so kind as to stitch you up! I cannot confirm either of the two, but I can confirm the beatings.

My father split when I was nine years old. Even the time that he was there, I have few memories . The fighting with my mother is imprinted on my mind. A few fishing trips and that's about it. My stepfather came into the picture at about the age of eleven. He was an ex sergeant in the army and a strict disciplinarian . After him choking me to unconsciousness and hitting me with whatever was available at the time, I started staying away from home as long as I possibly could. I ran with a group of guys that didn't have much of a home life either. After running away countless times, we progressed to stealing cars, fighting and an assortment of hell raising. Along with all this came the alcohol and drugs.

My introduction to The Florida School For Boys at Okeechobee wasn't a pleasant one. It was mandatory to stand in line outside the shower room, waiting for a stall to open up. While in line all you had on was pair of gym shorts. One of the four bullies that ran the cottage was making his way down the line with a rat tail , popping everyone as he passed. A rat tail was a towel that you twirled as to form a point at the end. You could wet the end and when you popped someone with it, it hurt...trust me. Needless to say..He popped me and I popped him...Then all hell broke loose! Two of them used my head and face for a punching bag, one choked me while the other sank his teeth into my shoulder. Incidentally his nickname was “Gator”. Go figure. The next thing I know, I'm on my knees and every things kinda blurry. They are standing in front of me with eyes wide open. I don't know if they thought they killed me or what. I managed to get to my feet and they begin to run. For some reason, my focus was on the biter. As I caught up to him, the cottage father had heard the ruckus and just happened to open his door as I tackled the biter. The cottage fathers wife begin to scream bloody murder. We all went down, in his doorway. I'm off to a good start!

There's a code you live by in any institution “The house rules” and the “inmate rules.” Breaking either one can cause you a lot of problems. So here I was, through no fault of my own, in a dilemma. They had me over at the adjustment wing ready to beat my ass. I didn't know these guys and to be quite honest..didn't like’em either. I told the truth about what happened..and that made me a puke. I had never seen these guys in my life. Come to find out, they had the whole cottage terrorized , and one of the cottage fathers turned a blind eye to what was going on. They were his bully boys! I was labeled for a short while, but it all changed. I got transferred over to Wilson cottage where I made friends with some guys that come from the same town as me. They had a reputation and took me in and all was well! There were plenty of guys bigger and tougher than us, but no one would mess with us.

I went to work in the kitchen and soon became the baker. Working there had it's advantages. Always having a supply of food and a continuous fire in the stoves. You could pop a socket, but they would bust your ass if they caught you. Fire meant cigarettes, as matches weren't always available. They hired a free man as a cook's helper, an ex air force man. We had to be in the kitchen way before daylight and he would come to work smelling like a vodka bottle. And he would forget to lock his car at times. So I couldn't help but pay his car a visit. Sure enough it would be under his front seat. A swig or two is all I took!

I can't remember his face or his name but he got caught smoking and told them where all my stashing places were. They came to me with evidence in hand. At the time, to the best of my recollection, it seems to me that going down day was a Thursday. So I had time to think about it. I had been briefed many times as to the procedure. Make sure you don't let go of the rail, don't scream. Bite the pillow, etc. One of my hometown friends had prepared me. He had ran just before I got there. They found him under a bridge after he had swam across a canal. All he had on was a pair of gym shorts. Wet ones at that! I don't want to exaggerate as to the number of licks he received. If I recall, it was 60 something. He can answer that better than me. I had then and have now, no reason to doubt him. I walked in the door of the adjustment wing and immediately was told to take off my brogans and sit in the hallway with those in line. I heard a commotion in the room that the beating was taking place. A voice was begging them to stop. It was one of my hometown boys. They kept telling him to turn his head and stay down. I had heard that they would get you out of the waiting line and make you hold someone down. You had better comply or they would bust your ass. I can recall that gut wrenching feeling in the pit of my stomach. Please Lord, don't make me have to do this. Finally they stopped beating him. If he complied to their satisfaction or they got tired of beating him, I don't know. My turn finally came and they called me into the room. The first thing I noticed was the strap in his hand. It was a quick glance and I likened it to a barber's strap. Also, sure enough, there were tracks on the ceiling where the strap had hit it hundreds of times. They were telling me the usual spiel, but I wasn't hearing a thing they said. I had been briefed already. You have to understand my fourteen year old twisted way of thinking. Was I afraid? Hell yes. But it was imperative to me that in no way could I let them bastards know they hurt me. I only hoped I could pass the test! I got on the bed and shoved what seemed like half the pillow in my mouth. The beater was saying something but I was deaf at the moment. Then..pssssssttttttt.....Powwwwwwww! You could hear the leather slicing through the air! I don't know if it was the reverberation from being in that tight space or just the sound that leather makes when it hits flesh. It was loud. It was extremely painful. Pssssssstttttt.......Powwwwwwwww... I'm sure my body language gave me away, but I never made a peep. I think he stopped in the mid twenties. I lost count early. Finally it was over and I was sent back to my cottage. In no time at all, my ass turned jet black. And then it became hard like leather. Think of a pair of black leather shoes. In a week or so, it's like a giant bruise on each cheek. I think I smoked a cigarette before the healing was complete. So much for the rehabilitation, huh?

I think they felt sorry for me after a year and some time and stopped writing me up so I could go home. I ran across the white house boy’s story in the newspaper. Wow...You mean someone actually wrote about it, I thought to myself. I hadn't read very far into the story when I noticed tears streaming down my face. After all these years, someone will believe me now. Thank you, Roger Kiser! The very first lash with that strap did as much damage as all the others combined! It's not about the pain at all. It hurt like hell, but I got over that. I came to that place a fourteen year old scared little boy, who behind that false bravado lacked any self esteem. I knew I was garbage when I got there. That very first lash drove that point home. In order for a society to remain civilized there has to be a set of rules to live by. I broke those rules. And should have been removed. I can't remember anyone there or any of the other institutions ever once asking me why I was so damned angry. In all fairness, it may have been a lost cause, but would have been a start. On every street corner there are clinics. If you cut your hand or scratch your knee, they'll patch you up. If I fall and hurt myself, people will gather around to help. Anger is a pain. It gets inside of you like a cancer and slowly eats away the soul. Some people are gifted at recognizing all the issues we faced as children in those hellholes. You don't put out a fire by pouring gasoline on it! Anyway I'm rambling now.

Few days go by that I don't think about why God kept his eye on me. I'm not a religious person, but theres no doubt in my mind that through his mercy I'm alive and not sitting in a cell doing life. The most valuable possession I own today is my self-respect. No one gave it to me. I had to earn it. It was a slow process but well worth it. Today people give me 100% of their trust and that feeling is indescribable! Today I'm no longer afraid to say “you hurt me”.

God Bless

James... janderson216@gmail.com