OKEECHOBEE — In an unprecedented move Tuesday, the Florida Senate officially apologized to the men who were sent to the Florida School for Boys in Marianna and Okeechobee.
Several men who were sent to the schools and suffered physical, mental and sexual abuse at the hands of school guards and doctors were at the state house in Tallahassee for the April 4 announcement.
“To the men and their families here today, I sincerely hope this resolution begins to provide some closure,” said Senator Darryl Rousson (D-19), sponsor of the Senate resolution. “Today is the next step for the legislature to honor these men.”
The House of Representatives will address their version of the resolution Thursday.
Senate Resolution 1440 (SR1440) acknowledges “… the abuses experienced by children confined in the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys and expresses the legislature’s regret for such abuses and the commitment to ensure that the children of the State of Florida are protected from the abuses and violations that took place at such facility.”
While confined to the two schools, boys as young as 6 were routinely beaten and sodomized.
“I was beaten for eating blackberries off the fence. I was beaten for talking about running,” said retired U.S. Army Captain Bryant Middleton. “I was molested by a doctor — by a man who portrayed himself as a child psychologist.”
Capt. Middleton, whose many military medals include the Purple Heart, was sent to the school because he was deemed incorrigible.
“I’d rather go back to the jungles of Vietnam than spend a day at Marianna,” he said.
Although the atrocities done to these men happened in the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s, it wasn’t until just a few years ago where some 500 men started telling their stories. They relayed how they were ‘taken down’ to a white concrete block building dubbed The White House at the Marianna school. Others recalled being sent to the ‘adjustment room’ at the Okeechobee school.
Regardless, the actions were the same.
Since then, bodies of young boys have been unearthed at the Marianna campus. Those who have not been claimed by family members will be reinterred.
House Resolution 1335 (HR1335) noted how boys were sent to the schools for such offenses as truancy, incorrigibility or smoking. Those boys are now men and have “… reported credible instances of being physically, psychologically and sexually abused by staff member at the school,” stated the resolution.
“The beatings in the Okeechobee facility of the Dozier School for Boys included strikes with leather straps that had quarters or dimes embedded in the leather to provide extra weight, and assaults using probing rods that were made of wood,” continued HR 1335.
As he concluded his brief speech, Capt. Middleton indicated his pleasure with the state’s acknowledgement of what happened at the schools.
“My wounds from Dozier, the wounds are actually starting to heal,” he said.
Eric Kopp is a staff writer for the Okeechobee News