The men remember the same things: blood on the walls, bits of lip or tongue on the pillow, the smell of urine and whiskey, the way the bed springs sang with each blow. The way they cried out for Jesus or mama. The grinding of the old fan that muffled their cries. The one-armed man who swung the strap.
They remember walking into the dark little building on the campus of the Florida School for Boys, in bare feet and white pajamas, afraid they'd never walk out.
For 109 years, this is where Florida has sent bad boys. Boys have been sent here for rape or assault, yes, but also for skipping school or smoking cigarettes or running hard from broken homes. Some were tough, some confused and afraid; all were treading through their formative years in the custody of the state. They were as young as 5, as old as 20, and they needed to be reformed.
It was for their own good.
Now come the men with nightmares and scars on their backsides, carrying 50 years of wreckage — ruined marriages and prison time and meanness and smoldering anger. Now comes a state investigation into unmarked graves, a lawsuit against a dying old man. Now come the questions: How could this happen? What should be done?
Those questions have been asked again and again about the reform school at Marianna, where, for more than a century, boys went in damaged and came out destroyed.
Five years of reporting on and documenting the victims of the Florida School for Boys, later known as the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys ultimately helped shut down the school in 2011. Exhumation work to determine how children died there and return their remains to next-of-kin is currently underway.
After decades of waiting, some families have finally been able to see their loved ones buried with dignity. Thirty-one metal crosses marked a clandestine cemetery on the campus where children were buried. Researchers have thus far removed fifty-five sets of human remains.