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"I EARNED THE RIGHT TO BE AFRAID"
We twenty-eight boys walked two abreast down the quarter mile walk way to the dining room. Following at the rear of the line was our cottage twelve house parent, Mr. Sea Lander.
“Move to the left and right and come to a stop,” he yelled.
The boys walking to the left of the sidewalk moved to the left and out onto the grassy area and the boys on the right moved to the right and came all came to a halt. As we turned our heads, we saw a young boy, about twelve or thirteen, being whisked along by two large men. I could tell by the look of horror on the boy’s face that he was headed to “the Whitehouse.”
“MOVE FORWARD AND FOLLOW,” instructed Mr. Sea Lander.
As I looked about, I could see that same look of horror appear on many of the other boy’s faces.
The “Whitehouse” was a small white house where boys were taken for severe punishment, mainly for running away. However, over the months things had gotten out of hand at the Florida School for Boys at Marianna, now known as the Dozier G. School for Boys. Boys were being beaten, some almost beyond recognition, for the simplest of infractions. Tony, the young boy walking ahead of us was being taken for the crime of stepping on the house parent’s foot while playing a game we called “capture the flag.”
As we stopped at the rear entrance of the dining room, the young boy and two men continued on to the white house, located so 200 years from our location. All at once, Tony began to run, screaming at the top of us lungs. Within seconds the two men had tackled him and were beating him with their fists. We said not a word, as we knew better than to open our mouths or act as if we realized what was happening in the distance.
Troy Tidwell, a one armed man, sat on the boy’s chest as Mr. Hatton took out his keys and unlocked the padlock on the White House door. Tony screamed, yelled and kicked as we was being drug into the single doorway. All that could be heard now was the sound of the large fan, used to muffle the sounds of screaming children as they were being beaten; an unmerciful beating with a large leather strap with a piece of sheet metal sewn between the two leather halves.
As we entered the dining room to eat, we constantly watched from the corner of our eyes to see if Tony was returning. More than a half an hour passed and no one came from the building. We were told when more than thirty minutes had pass; most likely the boy did not survive the beating and that his body would not be removed from the building until after dark. I constantly looked at Mr. Sea Lander with a look of horror on my face. He would smile and wink back at me.
“Don’t worry about it, son,” he would motion with his lips, as he waived his left hand out to his side.
I too had visited the White House several weeks earlier where my underwear had been beaten into my buttocks. I was taken to the hospital where the material had to be surgically removed by Doctor Wexler and Old Nurse Womack.
As we lined up for a return to our cottage, the White House door opened. The two men, both their pants covered in blood; drug Tony out the door by his legs. I jumped as his head hit the ground about twelve to fifteen inches below the doorway. Tony, twisting his body back and forth on the ground, leaves, dirt and pine straw were sticking to his bloody face and upper body. About twenty yards from were we were standing, the two men dropped the boy’s legs and left him lying in the dirt. Slowly rolling onto his stomach, Tony managed to make it to his knees.
We watched as his house parent came around the building and walked up to Tony.
“You little punk-ass afraid little bastard,” said the man, as he slapped Tony on the side of his face.
Slowly, Tony raised his arms into the air, his face and neck so bloody that we could not even tell who he was, and he screamed as loud as he could, “I EARNED THE RIGHT TO BE AFRAID.”
The house parent slapped him across the face as hard as he could.
“He earned the right. He earned the right. He earned the right,” yelled one of the boys from our cottage, from the back of the line.
Immediately, all twenty-eight boys from our cottage were screaming “HE EARNED THE RIGHT,” over and over and over.
“Okay Boys, you made your point. Let’s get moving,” said Mr. Sea Lander.
When we returned to cottage twelve Mr. Sea Lander lined us up on the clay basketball court and he began to speak.
“You boys know that you have violated a serious rule and that severe punishment has to be accommodated. You know that I have to punish you in accord with the rules of this institution. What you did was very serious. As punishment, each of you is to report to the dormitory and sit on your bunks for five minutes. I will turn on the dormitory radio to try and ease your pain during that period of time. Then you fellows can play basketball for about an hour. MOVE IT.”
We boys hurriedly ran to the dormitory and sat on our bunks as instructed. After that incident a feeling of pride sat in amongst us boys. A feeling of what team-work meant and what we could accomplish by standing together. That sometimes ‘the power’ is in the masses and not in the single, even in the worse of places.
The lesson for me was taught through Mr. Sea Lander. A thoughtful man, though he had to do a thankless and very difficult job to perform, was always fair and treated us boys with kindness and respect. It was he who made it possible for me to not take my hatred out on an innocent society, a place in which I would one day live.