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Dick Hinson Dozier School Memories

dick-hinson1

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

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Last modified onSunday, 15 February 2015 16:56
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