On Jan. 14, a memorial was dedicated to memories of the boys who lived and died at the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys in Marianna.
MARIANNA- On Jan. 14, a memorial was dedicated to the memories of the boys who lived and died at the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys in Marianna.
From 1900 to 2011, the State of Florida operated the reform school in Marianna. As early as 1901 reports surfaced of children being mistreated, including being chained to walls in irons, subjected to brutal whippings, and forced into involuntary servitude. Additionally, a fatal fire broke out in the dormitory on the south campus in 1914, resulting in the possible deaths of up to 10 students and guards.
The memorial features statutes representing the children who were sent to the school. One sculpture depicts a boy being held up by two of his friends while the other shows a line of boys standing with their heads bowed.
In 1959, due to overcrowding at the Marianna reform school, a second campus was opened in Okeechobee. The Okeechobee location was initially welcomed as a new source of jobs in the small town of about 6,000.
The Florida School for Boys in Marianna already had a history of abuse by the time the newer satellite campus opened. When some staff members transferred to Okeechobee from Marianna, it appeared they brought the abusive practices with them.
“They say Marianna was tough, but I think Okeechobee was tougher,” said Marvin L. Mike in a 2009 interview with the Okeechobee News. Marvin spent 18 months at the Okeechobee campus in 1961.
“They would make boys run away just so they could beat them,” continued Marvin. “It would make you cry if you saw what went on.”
Frank Zych, the former superintendent and deputy superintendent of the Florida School for Boys in Okeechobee, would administer corporal punishment himself.
“When you walked in there was a desk, and chairs in front of the windows where you sat and waited for the whipping,” explained Marvin. “You look to the left and there was Mr. Zych’s office and to the right was a small room. It was just big enough to get in there. In the room was a bed, like an old bunk bed, with a pillow. There was blood, vomit and slobber on it. They didn’t wash it, they would just wipe it off.”
Marvin, who was 12 years old when he was first sent to the school, said the leather strap used by Mr. Zych was smooth and about 4-to 5-inches wide. But the strap used by the school superintendent W.M. Sult was the most damaging.
“Mr. Sult would use a strap that had holes in it,” he said. “When he beat you with that one he intended to tear your hide up. It would pull the hide from you.”
Others who were at the boys school in the 1960’s tell similar stories.
Micheal Anderson was at the reform school from 1965 to 1967. Micheal describes being sent to the infamous “Adjustment Unit” after staff at the school found a lone cigarette under his pillow. He was beat with a leather strap similar to the one that was used on Marvin Mike.
The pain was excruciating,” says Micheal in a blog written about the punishment. “At one point I was trembling so violently that one of the men said ‘you better stop that shaking boy or we gonna have to start over.’ I stopped immediately. My buttocks were burning so intensely that it felt like someone had poured gasoline on them and set them ablaze. I cannot remember if there was blood. I just remember having a horrible back ache and trying to lie down on my back was impossible. I could not sit to eat. I had to stand up. I slept for many nights on my stomach and sleeping on my side was out of the question. I stayed in lock-up for two more weeks for a total of six weeks. I had lost more weight.”
“All things precious, tender and lovely left my soul that day,” Micheal concluded.
Records indicate that Florida Governor Claude Kirk toured the facility in 1967 and labeled conditions there as “deplorable.”
“I was released on a Thursday,” said Micheal Anderson of his last day at the Okeechobee school in 1967. “And while driving off campus, I reached for a cigarette, lit up and blew a bunch of smoke out of the car window as we slowly drove past one of the swing blade crews. One of the guys looked up and began smiling broadly. I smiled back as we drove off campus, never to return again.”
Listen to a true crime podcast about the Florida School for Boys here.