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Chicken Soup for the Soul Books contributing author, Roger Dean Kiser was sentenced to The Florida Industrial School for Boys at Marianna from 1959-1961.The following is his account of one of the abuses suffered by him while at that facility.
"THE HORRORS OF THE WHITE HOUSE"
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 this here when I get out of here one day," I mumbled.
"Talk like that around here will have you wake up dead one 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, Mrs. 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.
Roger Dean Kiser, Sr.
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.
THE "WHITE HOUSE"
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