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I was sent to F. I. S. in early 1954. I can't remember the exact date but I think around March or April. Anyhow, I was 15 years old at the time. I too, remember how I thought it was a beautiful place, nothing to make you believe it was anything but pleasant. I remember having it explained to me how the Grade System worked. You started as a "Pioneer". If you got no bad grades you advanced to "Pilot" then to "Ace." After that you went home. It usually took 7 to 9 months. However, a bad grade would set you back to a lower rank. A bad grade when you were a Pioneer would set you back to "Grub." If you got a bad grade when you were a Grub, it was a trip to the White House. At that time the standard beating was 15 lashes. If you moved or whimpered, the count started over. Not many boys received "only" 15.
The first time I went there all I could think of were the black and bleeding butts I had seen in the showers of our cottage. We met at some office on a Saturday morning where 10 or 12 boys were marched to the white house and entered the front door. I remember a narrow hall with rooms on each side. The rooms were about 6' x 12". All were empty except one which had a smalll bed left of the door. We all went into the room across the hall. I didn't know what to expect, just stood staring at the wall. You didn't dare make eye contact with any of the three men who were about to beat you somewhere or it would be worse. The first boy went in. You stood there waiting. I can't find the words to describe the fear and terror of hearing that first "whack". BAM! I swear it was as loud as a shotgun blast. Then you counted. You want to run, hide, get out of there. I don't know how many went before me, but I went and lay down face first, pillow in my mouth, "filthy pillow", head turned to the wall. Then you hear the scrape. Was it his feet or was it the stiff Paddle scraping the wall? Who knows? Then comes the contact. Nothing can prepare you for the pain of that first whack! It is blinding, brain numbing, pure terror. 14 years old. They told me I got 15. I lost count after 1. Butt was black and split in 3 places.
The second time I went was even worse. I don't remember how many boys were there but after two or three, one boy jumped up after a few whacks and hit Mr. Hatton. Mr. Dixon was in the room with him. He slammed the boy back to the bed and tried to hold him but couldn't. The bastard Hatton came in the room we were waiting in and pointed to 4 boys. I was one of them. "You'll come and hold him or you'll all get 100." That was the worst experience of my my life. After 55 years, I can still see it like it was yesterday. He hit that boy from the back of his head to his heels. There wasn't a spot on the back of his body that wasn't black or bleeding. I'm not sure but I think his name was Robert Hightower. I know he was one tough kid. I really don't know what happened to him after that. The guys in the other room told me he got 117 lashes but I think it was more. Hatton turned the paddle around and
hit him several times in the head and face with the handle.
I know there will be a lot of people who will not believe this happened but if I am not telling the truth may God strike my 6 children, 13 grandchildren and 4 great-grandchildren dead this very minute! I truly believe there is not or ever has been a man as purely evil as that bastard Mr. Hatton!
Anyways, after they took the boy out, it was my turn. They told me I got 29 that time. The final time I went down was for running away. That time there was just two of us boys. I still kind of laugh about it. Mr. Hatton wasn't there so Mr. Dixon had the honor. We called him the Whimp after that beating. He just didn't have the knack of laying the paddle on you flat enough. I got 45 that time and it wasn't as bad as 15 from Hatton. After the first one I could actually think, wow, this isn't bad at all. Hardly any bruising, mostly on the side of my hip.
I'll be 70 years old in June and I still cannot understand how this kind of brutality could have happened with the approval of the governing powers of the state of Florida. Can you imagine doing that to prisoners of war? Even terrorists can't be brutalized like that, the world would not stand for it.
I understand its over now. It will never be over for me or the many other young men who went through that terrible place called Florida Industrial School for Boys. I turned my life around several years later. But it wasn't easy. You just have to push those memories aside.