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Wednesday, Nov 22, 2017
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Letter of the Day

Letter of the Day: ‘We were just boys who were at their mercy’

Sen. Bill Nelson has asked the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate the Dozier facility. He told reporters months ago: “Where there is smoke, there is fire.” It seems he was right. There is such a preponderance of evidence of abuse and corruption of power that there surely is fire.

An empty coffin shipped with no body to a family in Pennsylvania is the last straw. How much documented abuse and evidence does one need to know for the DOJ to step in and start asking hard questions to the former workers and staff who are still alive?

It is not Marianna nor Jackson County that should be asking “where is the proof of murder — show us just one body of a boy who was murdered.” Prove it, they insist.

Should we be the ones to prove what happened? We were just boys who were at their mercy. We could not even call out to a boy at the cottage next to us without risking a beating. We could not step off the sidewalk or leave the area we worked. Few of us even knew the last names of all the boys in our cottage. We may have seen boys go to the “white house” and not come back, or boys were there one day and gone the next. What could we do? We lived under the fear of the whip — there were whispers but not much else. No one was out snooping around to look for clues. This was no Hardy Boys adventure. This was the reality of sadistic men who could do as they pleased. This was a reform school without accountability.

In fact, with what USF and Professor Erin Kimmerle have found, it is we who should be asking this: Where are the bodies of these missing people?

The “Boot Hill’ cemetery in the FDLE report was the only existing cemetery for both black and white. The 31 names were provided by the local town historian. Records by the hundreds were missing. They were burned by fires, destroyed by time.

There seems to be a few questions that are smoldering like embers, in the ashes of yesterday:

Where are the 22 boys who cannot be accounted for, did not return home, and where are they buried? Where are the missing burn victims from the 1914 fire? What happened to Gregory Sampson? He arrived at Dozier on March 16, 1965, and turned 13 on the 17th of March 1965. He came home at the end of October or early November 1965 in a wheelchair, a patch over his right eye. He could not speak or walk, and he could barely move his arms He never recovered and died June 6, 1966.

In Andrew Puel’s copy of a journal of boys that ran from Feb. 23, 1937, to Jan. 31, 1947, there are nine pages of black and white boys who escaped. They are listed by name, age, race, parents, date received, date recaptured and how released. There are 183 boys listed. There are 11 comments. The rest are blank. What happened to these 172 boys?

Of the families that submitted DNA, if their boy does not match any DNA with the bodies being tested, where are they?

So we ask the citizens of Marianna who worked at the facility, the Jackson County Board of Commissioners and the state of Florida: Where are all of these missing bodies? Should 500 victims be called on to prove anything? No. An entity not tied to any state but to the USA is needed in this story of darkness, mystery and preteen boys who were whipped like horses.

Robert Straley

Clearwater

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