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Manuel W. Giddens

My story of F.S.B (1957-1959)

My name is Manuel W. Giddens and when I was eight months old my mother moved to Tampa, Fl. from Savannah Georgia.

Just getting into her third marriage at that time, I was the youngest child (nine years old). I had three brothers and six sisters. I do not know much about my mother's past and I never ask her about it. I know she was married to a man name Eugene Love and she had four children, three girls and one boy. Then there was my Father, James A Lennard and she had five children with him; three girls and two boys. So, then my name was Manuel W. Lennard and my brother name is James.

When my brother and I started school my mother registered us under my step father's name of "Giddens," telling us that they changed our names in the courts. But the real reason was that my step father had no boys to carry his name on.

Around the time I had started school is when bad things began happening to my brother and I. He was seven and I was six. The next thing I knew my mother and father were going back and forth to court trying to get custody of the five of us. That must have been very difficult for a mother with nine children at home and two parents.

My mother had to have a lot of pressure on her. My father had become a preacher and he had and old Buick station wagon with two big speakers on the roof of the vehicle. He would drive around the streets of Tampa and preach to everyone.

I never like school and I would cry almost every day that I went to school. It was about that time when the law and child enforcement came and got us. They put my brother and I in a Children Home and placed my sisters in fosters homes.

We stayed at the Children's Home for a long time. It was horrible and our lives were miserable. The other children would take our toys and the matron in charge of the children would beat you. Mean to the children would be putting it lightly. They were always mean as hell to you. For some unknown reason my mother had moved and some how got us out of there. Then before I knew it, I was about eleven years old. By that time my mother had two more children, by my step father, one girl and one boy. So now he had a son to carry his name and things began to change. Now there were eleven of us and times got really hard on everyone. The next thing I knew we were taken away again. This time we all were sent to a juvenile home in Lake Magdalene; which was a reform school for both girls and boys. We were divided by a fence but we all eat in the same cafeteria in which my Aunt happened to be working in as a cook. I was surprised to learn that it was my father, the Reverend, James A. Lennard, who was preaching to we children as well as to employees every Sunday.

My brother and I planed to escape one night but he got into some trouble fighting with another boy, so they put him in a holding cell. I waited until it was after midnight then I crawled through a small piece of the ceiling that could be taken out. That opening led me to the school from the dormitory, which we had done several times before. So we knew how to get out. Very carefully and slowly I went around back were James was being held and I tried to get him out. But, I was making to much noise and almost got caught, so I just left him there because it was just too scary. I had to walk through the dark woods all the way to town. Once there, I made it to a drive-in theatre and managed to get into the little ticket booth were they sold tickets. I slept under a canvas until the next day then I walked from west to east Tampa but found no one home. I went inside; got some food together and headed out into the woods where I knew of an old abandoned house was located. I camped there for several days, going back and forth for food and water. It was then that my mother caught me and talked me into turning myself in.

It was not to long before we got out again and went home. It was not long after that when I turned twelve. That is when James and I started sticking around together as buddies. We would gather up bottles, rags, bottles and cardboard and take them to a produce market on Seventh Avenue and sell them. Then we would go further up to Ybor City and sell our rags and cardboard. From there we would walk all the way to the Banana Docks in Tampa and would get a wagon load of bananas. Then it was a very long walk all the way back to where we could sell them. Then we would return home. That would generally take the entire day.

On one particular day, we happened to meet a boy, his name was Marvin. He was about our same age. He and his family sold news papers. They were exceptionally poor, actually worse off than we were. That is where I/we learned to sell news papers. We began trying to help them as much as possible; just trying to make things better for them. It was about then that we met Carl who got us our own job selling papers on the street Corner. We were doing very well until Carl refused to pay us so we threaten him. He finally relented and gave up what I thought was twenty dollars, but was only about eight dollars. My bother and I went to the Ritz Theatre and began watching a movie. About half way through the show, my step-father came inside and told us to come with him. Once outside, we were handed over to the police, questioned and then sent home.

Within a very short time, my mother had moved two or three more times. My father operated a mission in the down-town area known as “skid row.” The Lighthouse Gospel Mission was its name. In the same building was a tattoo parlor. Later on, after I turned nineteen, I got a tattoo by a man they called “Shorty.” He was one of the greatest tattoos artists of that time. He tattooed all the Carnies’ when they came to Tampa with the fair. Shortly after that we were sent back to the home. They sent my sister to a foster home somewhere in Arkansas. The juvenile court was trying to decide what to do with James and me.

My mother secretly traveled to Arkansas where she stole my sister and moved to Nashville Tennessee. Shortly after that, James and I were taken to court for “strong arm robbery” and sentenced to The Florida School for Boys at Marianna (FSB).

The first day we arrived we were assigned a cottage I was assigned to number one (Washington) and James was assigned to Cottage number eight (Wilson). The next day we were given medical exams and I was told I had a hernia on my right side. I was also told that my tonsils needed to be removed, which they did not do. The operation would be scheduled at a later date.

The next day we were assigned a job classification. James was assigned to work for Mr. Hatton, the Director, and I was assigned to the yard crew. It was what was considered to be an anything and everything type of job; where you did everything from cleaning disposal systems to mowing the campus, as well as raking.

James worked at the office and his job was to keep track of all the inmates that come to the office and he ran errands for Mr. Hatton. That meant going to retrieve boys who were scheduled to get their ass beat. On one occasion, that included me.

I remember I had not been there long before I got into a fight with another boy named Kenneth Walker. Mr. Kenny, who was our first cottage-father at that time and later on we got another cottage-father; named H.E. Duce. Because we had fought, Mr. Kenny made us clean the front porch with a tooth brush. I got very angry and I told Kenneth that I was going to escape. He immediately “puked” (told on me). Shortly after that a car drove up to the cottage and the men told me to get inside. They immediately drove me to the “White House” where they beat the pure living shit out of me. That had to be one of the most horrible experiences of my entire childhood. In fact, it was one of the worst experiences of my entire life.

Some time had passed as it took quiet a while for me to heal from the beating. One day I was told to report to the hospital. Without even a second opinion, or my parent’s permission, or even my permission for that matter; I was put to sleep and given a double surgery. I had my tonsils removed and a hernia repaired as well.

While in the infirmary; one night some one, a male came over to my bed. I quickly woke up and this man was trying to take my pants off. Still sore from the surgeries; I could not yell or do much to stop him. But, somehow, by some miracle, I managed to make enough noise to scare him off. I never did find out who it was. It could have been an adult employee or maybe even an inmate.

I was there about twenty one months and my brother was there about fifteen months. In that time period, I witnessed a lot of terrible things. Many horrible things went on like boy’s taken to the White House and given one hundred lashes for running away. One for killing one of the hound dogs that was tracking him. The story was around the school that if any boy escaped and was being tracked by the hounds; the hound that caught the boy was entitled to be kissed on the rectum by the boy being pursued, then carried back through the woods, by the boy, to a waiting state car or truck.

I was on the boxing team and fought Henry Culver in Thomasville Georgia. The opposing team did not have enough fighters so they matched Culver and I to fight each other. It was declared ‘a draw’ but I remember it to this very day. That was one hell of a fight. It was not uncommon for us boys to be required to fight against one another strictly for the entertainment of the adults in charge.

I hardly ever saw my brother the whole time I was there; but one afternoon he came and got me from my job. I was working at the surge plant digging up dried shit and loading it on a trailer. I think they used it as fertilizer to grow corn, peanuts and other greens. I look up I saw James from a distance. I could tell from the look on his face that something was very wrong. The next thing I knew he was telling me that I had to report to Mr. Hatton’s Office. Someone had once again “pucked” on me for smoking earlier that morning. I thought no one had seen me, but I guess someone did. I was taken to the White House and got thirty six lashes. That beating was not as bad as the first but it is still a beating I will remember for the remainder of my life also.

Not long after the beating my brother was released and they offered to give me a job change. I went to work for Doctor L. Currie; I became his “office boy.” I worked for the doctor until they beat me one last time. They gave me forty-six horrifying lashes with a leather strap with a sheet-metal insert.

After about six or seven months, a total of twenty one months at the school, my step-father and one of my sisters came to get me. In 1959 he took me to Nashville Tennessee to join my family. By 1962 we had moved to Fort Myers, Florida.

I believe I was sixteen when I was taken to jail for breaking and entering. My cousin and I broke into a hardware store we stole all the guns and ammunition. We were caught and I was sent to the Florida Sate Prison at Raiford. I stayed there for over thirty days before being transferred to A.C.I. I was released after fifteen months. I got out; married stayed out of trouble for twelve years. Finally I got divorced and then my life turned back into a never-ending hell. After that, the negative incidents began to mount and somewhere in time I lost track of the many stories. I could pick any one of the stories, during that time in my life, and I could write a book.

Manuel W. Lennard Giddens