Dick Hinson Dozier School Memories


From January 29, 2009 A Rebuttal To Headlines In A Recent Sunday Edition of the Floridan Newspaper: 'Time to Clear the Air!'

Two former offenders whwere in the custody of the Dozier School for Boys during the mid 1950s have come forward with an amazing and sensational story. They allege they suffered cruel physical abuse from a group of guards while they were housed at Dozier.

This type of punishment was, they claim, standard operating procedure at the institution. However, that charge is equivalent to a slap on the wrist compared to the absurd accusation which follows. Are you prepared for a shock?  'The sadistic torture of the boys progressed to concealed murders on a fairly large scale.'

They didn't offer an estimate on the body count, but shared speculation that unmarked graves were abundant. Some victims apparently received hasty and shallow disposals as evidenced by bare bones surfacing in farmland adjacent to the school. We can assume that there were no funeral services for the victims.

The pair of men bringing these allegations now appear to be in their sixties and are having problems finding local citizens old enough to verify their tales of infamous standards of that era. They invite the 'good people of Marianna' to come forward and join the '300-400' former residents already recruited to complain. It is suggested that it is O.K. to remain anonymous if you so desire.

The duo of past offenders declares that their experience at the school was traumatic. A period of approximately fifty years was required for them to be able to come forward to talk about it. Now, speaking easily and freely, they also divulge that book and movie deals may be pending. This is no surprise. Lurid and sensational stories of this nature often find a ready market in certain classes of today’s media- including pulp magazines. They closed the press interview by urging any elderly residents (familiar with the earlier years of the “reform school”) to come forward with their comments on the validity of their claims.

As a native of this small town and now in my 80s, I submit that I meet their criteria and do not elect to with hold my identity. In my opinion, the best single word to describe their story is, “Hogwash.” Stay with me and I think you will agree.

The 'Florida School for Boys' now, 'Dozier' was formerly dedicated in Marianna on January 1, 1900. For over seventy years there was no perimeter fence around the expansive acreage. The interior streets, which served the buildings and housing, remained open to the public on a 24 hour basis. There were no check points or traffic controls. The superintendent and key staff members lived on the school premises with their families. Each year, Christmas displays erected by the boys drew thousands of people from the Tri-State area.

In the late 1940s, private picnic pavilions were constructed for the boys to use when they were visited by their families and/or friends. These occasions were totally unsupervised, permitting personal conversation. You can be certain that questions focused on the boys’ environment, welfare and conditions at the correctional facility. You can also be certain that the boy's were aware of every rumor- fact or fiction- and of any degrading and severe abuse to any student. The mere hint of a murder on the premises would have resulted in family outrage. Protests would have been made from the Governor to the House of Congress. The local police and sheriff would have been confronted.  It just did not happen.

If a boy had no immediate family members, there were two more back-up levels for detection of wrong doing. The second safeguard was the superintendant and his staff. I knew there all who served long terms during the 1930s to the early 1980s. They were capable managers who were good at their jobs. Their network of gathering information from certain rank and file employees was such that no activities escaped their attention and control on a 24 hour basis.

If you can imagine the failure of the first two systems to detect the deadly tortures, there remains a third: the medical personnel who were on staff there. I have been acquainted with the doctors who served as medical directors since the 1930s, who also maintained private practices in town. The physician who served one of the longest terms until recent years was a close personal friend. I can assure you that his perception and skill was impressive. Any injury of an abusive nature would have immediately been recognized, reported and investigated. This man died several years ago.

Subject to these three safeguards, it is almost ludicrous to imagine the reality of a long term practice of abuse and secret burials by the night shift school guards.

When young, we “town boys” made frequent visits to the school, and considered it to be an interesting place. Athletic teams, marching units and a drum and bugle band were in action. We also couldn’t help noticing that the boys, about our ages, appeared to be well fed, healthy and well clothed. This was not the case with our own classmates, some of whom did not go barefoot by choice during those years of the Depression.

When I returned to Jackson County from World War II, The Dozier School was considered to be an extension of our city, churches and civic clubs. It does not deserve to be portrayed as a concentration camp sixty years later.
-Dick Hinson


Remembering Ducky Johnson

dick-hinson1Reminiscing From May 24, 2007 Jackson County Times

I once had an elderly friend, a businessman and banker, who said "Nobody can fairly judge how far a person has come in life unless you know the point at which they started!"

Over a long period of years, anyone in the business of dealing with the public will become acquainted with a multitude of people from all walks of life. A few individuals will prove to be unique and memorable. A man known as "Ducky Johnson" was in that rare category. Stocky and muscular, he closely resembled baseball legend Pete Rose in both appearance and personality.

By 1974, I had been acquainted with Johnson, his wife Carolyn, and most of his family for a long time. A native of the Grand Ridge area, His business of moving houses and buildings was well known in the Tri-States area. Beginning as a helper at an early age left little time for formal education, which he regretted in later years. However, he had accumulated a broad amount of experience. By the time he established his own family operation, his track record of completing complicated jobs was already well known.

In the summer of '74, Ducky and I were examining a two-story frame dwelling on the site of the current Regions Bank Headquarters on Downtown Green Street. To go south through the center of town with a house height of 40 feet was not a simple matter. There was a complex of state-owned traffic lights, 143 utility wires, the main telephone suspended trunk line, and the L. & N. Railroad communication lines to name a few. None could be lifted high enough to allow clearance. Public entities and utility companies are natural enemies of people who want to move large structures, and multiple meetings and permits were required. Current regulations are more restrictive, especially on height.

Finally, the house had been vertically cut into two sections. Brick chimneys serving six fireplaces were intact, braced under the foundation floor. The move was scheduled for the next morning. Ducky and I gazed up at the truncated structure. "How much", he asked, "Do you think it weighs?" I felt like a first grade kid being asked to summarize Einstein's Theory of Relativity. My honest answer was "Who needs to know?" "The State Road Department," he replied. "We have to file the weight calculated from the jack calibrations." "The rear section weighs a hundred and forty tons, and the front section ninety tons. Tomorrow, 230 tons will move. And it did, with the assistance of various utility work crews and police traffic control. The house has been "Home" for 32 years, and is now 101 years old.

Nobody could observe such an operation, from start to finish, without seeing that complex engineering skills were being carried out. Over a wide area, Johnson's capability for successful completion of very difficult jobs became know. His services were sought by many. In recent years, his contracts included moving space missiles of gigantic height and weight on government bases in other parts of the country...a long distance from Grand Ridge, in more ways than one...

Ducky JohnsonDucky JohnsonRegardless of personal talent, the old schools of hard knocks, trial and error and self-education have passed into history. A degree or two is now often required before your ability to do the work is even tested.

However, you have to admire anyone who can overcome the handicaps of the "Old School" to demonstrate unusual talents in his field. I remember Ducky Johnson as a friend and a man of his word. His hometown will remember him as their former Mayor.

How far had he come in life? Remembering the old banker's benchmark of success, or however you choose to measure: it's a long, long journey from a small structure behind an old pickup truck to moving spacecraft.

As "Ducky" might say, "It wasn't easy." He was one of a kind, and the mold has been broken...

Dick Hinson


Reminiscing - Snakes and Guardian Angels.. They don't go together?

dick-hinson1ReRun from January 31, 2007 Dick Hinson, Reminiscing: The subject is snakes and guardian angels.. They don’t go together? Read on. . .

Rewind the date to 1960. We have four sons. Three are “yard-sized”, 10, 7, and 4 years old. The “house-sized” boy is 10 months old. The older boys like to swim, fish, and explore the Chipola River swamp. . . active in the outdoors.

I’m trying to take a rare Sunday afternoon nap when they come in for permission to kike around in a cultivated field next to the house. It was a warm spring day, so I gave them an hour’s “pass”. Their first time out alone. In thirty minutes they were running across the field back to the house, with the youngest riding “piggy back” on the 10 year old. All three were panting with excitement. “Daddy”, they cried, “Get your gun! There’s a great big snake under a bush!” Half asleep, I asked for the location. “Back by the railroad,” they replied. This was the Marianna & Blountstown Railroad which went through our land. To the boys, “Off Limits”.

Whatever they had seen was probably gone along with my nap, so I told them to go to the car. Leaving the house, I slipped a small .32 caliber revolver under my belt. Soon, I would badly want to replace it with a shotgun.

The “bush” turned out to be a large clump of briars with a well-worn rabbit trail along the out edge. It had all the earmarks of an ambush site for a diamond-back rattler, so I was careful in my approach. At close range, there was no sound. I began to relax as I leaned over to look down to ground level . . .

Slowly coming into focus was a pile of diamond-back that made my blood run cold. The wide spade-shaped head was flattened on top of thick coils which would fill most of a large wash tub. He was aware that he was seen, but remained silent and motionless. I told the boys to get in the car. How had they discovered the well-hidden snake? Even knowing his location, he was still difficult to spot . . . How close did they come to him? That would come later! Aimed the front sight of the small handgun at the center of the head, and noticed that my hand had developed a tremor. Squeezing the trigger, my shot was off by about two inches. It clipped the outer edge of the head and went down through the coils. . A minor wound. The snake uncoiled in a flash and headed toward a small nearby cave. He was finally put down a few feet short of his escape.

The mystery of the lack of a warning rattle was solved. The snake had lost them, and the replacement set had just started to grow. The vibrating stub of the tail made no sound. . .

Back at home, some neighbors gathered, including one who captured rattlers for contests. The subject reptile was six feet four inches long and sixteen inches in circumference. He had not recently fed. This was an ominous indication. . He had a full charge of venom.

Now, the time came to hear from the boys. I didn’t look forward to it. Robert, the sharp-eyed seven year old, was into a rock collecting hobby. He spotted what he thought to be a large multi-colored rock under the “bush”. He proceeded to slide head-first under the clump of briars. From his prone position, he reached out to try to pull the heavy “rock” into the open. Then he froze. At this point, I didn’t feel like talking. My wife said I was as white as a sheet. Finally, I asked “When did you realize it was a snake?” I’ll never forget his answer: “When I saw him smiling at me.”

My friends, if you ever find yourself close enough to discern the razor-thin upturned ends of a viper’s mouth, I can assure you that you are at a point-blank strike range. With all of the “close calls” my family encounters in raising four active sons, it was our worst exposure to an accidental death.

Why didn’t the snake strike? Experts in the field have no answer. I give the credit to Guardian Angels, one of which was working overtime

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