THE HORRORS OF THE WHITE HOUSE
I was about 12 years old, living in the Florida School for Boys at Marianna, when they called me to the head office. They 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 with one arm walked out. He 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 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. The men grabbed me 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 sitting on another 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 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, Ms. Womack, soaked me in Epsom salts. With tweezers, she pulled the 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 Mr. Hatton was ever troubled the least little bit by that beating. I have always wondered if Mr. Robert Curry, the phychologiist, got a thrill out of putting a 12 or 13-year-old boy in his place in that manner.
I spoke with Mr. Troy Tidwell, the one-armed man, 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.
Roger Dean Kiser, Sr.
LETTER FROM THE OFFICE OF THE GOVERNOR OF FLORIDA
Dated, May 6, 1999
I do not know what to say to your message (story). It is a heartfelt, painful, incredible story. I am so sorry. I will ask our Secretaries of DJJ and DCF to review their agencies and respond to you directly about current policies, as you have requested that we look into current practices. I hope and pray that nothing like this ever happens in Florida today. Thank you for your message. I will forward your letter along with this response to the Governor. I hope you are doing OK now.
LETTER FROM JUDGE Kathleen A. Kearney
Dated, August 20, 1999
Dear Mr. Kiser:
Governor Bush has asked that I respond to you on his behalf. I am sorry to hear of the experiences you had during the time you spent in the Florida School for Boys. This Department did not exist when you when there. However, I am told that the "white house" and corporal punishment were banned in the institutions around 1967. I am pleased to say that children do not have to endure that kind of experience today. Now, a 24-hour abuse hotline is available to everyone and state law requires that specified state employees report any abuse or neglect that they observe.
The former training school now houses the Dozier School and is part of the Department of Juvenile Justice. At the Dozier School, the children have free access to a telephone and they can report abuse that occurs. This Department and the Office of Inspector General for the Department of Juvenile Justice investigates all such reports. Good luck in your future endeavors.
Very truly yours,
Judge Kathleen A. Kearney
Letter from Florida Governor
Dear Mr. Kiser:
Thank you for your December 13 email to Governor Bush requesting assistance in locating Mr. Robert SeaLander of the Florida School for Boys in Marianna. The Governor asked that the district respond to you on his behalf.
After reading your story, I certainly sympathize with the undeserved punishment you endured and I am quite stunned that anyone could be so cruel to a child, especially an employee of the State. Also, I must commend you for being able to not hold a grudge against anyone that would do such a thing. I am glad to hear that there was at least one person during that part of your childhood that did show some compassion towards you and I am sorry I was not able to locate Mr. SeaLander for you.
I asked our Background Screening Coordinator, Mr. Barry Taylor, for assistance after spending many unsuccessful hours doing Internet searches and using a number of different spellings. Mr. Barry explained that the Background Screening system wasn't created until the 1990s but he did state that there have been no background searches performed on a Robert SeaLander in the State of Florida since the system was put to use. Although, there is no guarantee that Mr. SeaLander still resides in Florida, a search of the Florida White Pages revealed only two listed Robert SeaLanders in the State. In an attempt to assist you further, I have left messages for each to return my call if they have any information about a Robert SeaLander who previously worked in Marianna. Should either of them contact me, I will explain your situation and provide them with your contact information, should they wish to speak with you.
Thank you for sharing your story with me. It has certainly made me think of the many horrors that orphans must have experienced in those days that have not been made public. However, I am comforted to know the people I have been in contact with in my five short years with the Department of Children and Families here in Jacksonville, really are dedicated to ensuring that all children enjoy their right to a happy and healthy childhood.
Operations & Management Consultant II
Department of Children and Families
District 4 Client Relations Office
5920 Arlington Expressway
Jacksonville, Florida 32211
(904) 723-5323 (8) 841-5323
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.
Roger Dean Kiser, Sr.
August 16, 2007 12:26 PM
I found your comment after doing a little research into what my father refers to as "the boy's home in Marianna". My father has spoken of a beating he received while he was there in the late 1950's. I have not read your comment to my dad, but I was chilled to the bone as my father has even said the name, Mr. Tidwell when referring to the one arm man. The details of my dad's experience are very much like your own, so much so it gave me goosebumps. Because my dad has always been a wonderful father, very generous, loving, and understanding I as an adult have never been able to fully comprehend the hell and torture he endured at Marianna. I also doubt many people can understand the horrors that these young boys such as my father experienced. I applaude you for sharing your experience, and have often encouraged my father to do the same. NO child should EVER be treated in that manner!
September 16, 2007 10:05 AM
Try this number
Sealander, Robert Kent
44 Kent C
West Palm Beach, FL 33417-1706
November 27, 2007 6:33 PM
When I read this article it really sent chills up my spine, I too was beaten several times at the "white house" the description being entirely accurate. The was also a large fan that they would turn on that made a loud noise to cover up the sounds of the blows and cries of the boys so as to not panic other boys waiting in line to be beaten. I received 30 lashes for "talking about running", my first taste of the white house. Then three more times just for fun. Mr. Tidwell Jr. the one armed man and his father Mr. Tidwell Sr. and a Mr. Hess, one of these would come in the middle of the night and set on my bed just long enough to be in my face as I awoke. I was then taken to the front desk of the cottage and told that I had been smoking and if I denied it I would "go down" So either way I was going to get a beating. Why? Because these child molesting sadistic men needed some late night entertainment.
The "white house" was to the left of the dining hall, behind the offices and school. There was also, on the side of the office/school building an underground room where boys were taken for sexual purposes as no one could hear you scream. When three full grown men have you down there is not much left to do.
Whatever happened to us white boys was twice as bad for the black boys on the other side of the road (separate camps) Up to 200 lashes for them, there were stories that two of the black boys there had run and been beaten to death in the woods and disposed of. I have no doubt this could be true. These men had total control over the camps. Inspectors would come from time to time but we were all notified before they came to be on our best behavior or face the consequences.
I am 62yrs old and still have nightmares about feeling someone sitting down on the edge of my bed, and about the beatings. I had no idea any of these men would still be alive, I am only sorry that I did not tell someone about this but after getting out all I wanted to do was get far away from Florida. Plus the fact that it was something I felt ashamed of and buried in a dark corner of my mind. There should be a reckoning for these terrible crimes committed against children as young as ten.
I am Robert Straley at: firstname.lastname@example.org
March 5, 2008 7:25 AM