My Story of being one of
“The White House Boys”
By George F. Schools
I was around fourteen (14) when I stole a brand new 1958 Edsel from the showroom floor at Stewart Lincoln Mercury in Hollywood, Florida. Some of my friends and I went on a joyride for two days. On the third day, I ditched the car in what was called “Butler’s Dairy.” This joyride would lead to a terrible place.
I do not remember how the police found out it was me that stole the car. Once they caught up to me, I was arrested and put in an isolation cell in Broward County Jail. I was there for a time before they brought me before Judge Ray Orr. Being a minor he charged me with malicious mischief, he said I was a Juvenile Delinquent and then sentenced me to an “indeterminate” amount of time at the Florida School for Boys in Marianna.
I had heard about the reform school but never thought I would end up there. A short time later, I was transported by two (2) State Marshalls to FSB. For the next thirteen (13) months and three (3) days, my life totally changed. It was like a horror house.
When I arrived in July of 1958, there had already been an investigation into the disciplinary actions of the “so-called” cottage fathers. The state had set up new rules and regulations prior to my sentencing. Some of the changes included the following standards:
1. No fists shall be used on the boys.
2. No guns were allowed to be carried.
3. Disciplinary action was to be taken only after an administrative hearing.
4. The boys were to have a doctor available 24-7 in case of injury. (never did)
5. There was no solitary confinement. The doors where taken out of “The White House” but they were allowed to shutter the windows (little did the public know that behind those shutters were steel bars). Only a green door remained.
When I arrived at Marianna in was in July of 1958. There was a three (3) day classification that I went through and they put me in Cleveland Cottage Number 11. My Cottage father’s name was Sealander. More than that, I do not remember much about him.
I was assigned to the agriculture crew. It was our job to mow the lawns, work the fields, dig ditches, and work in the human waste disposal. I really did not mind the work, it was very hard, but it kept me going. Eventually they allowed me to drive a “tug” around to pick up the laundry. I would get the laundry and drive it back to the laundry shop. There I would unload it and return the tug. We also went to school every other day.
During a time when I was hoeing a potato field, I dug up an old paddle. The paddle was made with layers of leather and was around 2-2 ½ feet with a grip. The layers of leather were bolted together with small nuts and bolts. I showed it to a few other boys and then I re-buried it because it scared the hell out of me. I did not want anyone seeing me dig it up let alone showing it around.
After I had been there for a while, I thought about running away. I told this to another boy and we discussed possibilities. Someone must have overheard our conversation because shortly afterward we were called into administration. After which we were turned over to Mr. Tidwell and my nightmare began.
Tidwell brought us both to “The White House” and into a room with two bare cots. The “musty smell” of that room is something I have never forgotten. Before Tidwell started beating us, he gave us certain instructions that went like this: “You are to hold onto the bedframe of that cot, if you let go I will have the kitchen boys hold you down and the count will start all over again.” Who wants to go first? I looked at my friend and said, “I will go first.”
The first time the paddle came down it moved my entire body into the cot (which had springs) and I almost went through the cot to the floor. The springs bounced the bed back. When the springs stopped, I could hear Tidwell’s foot move and the “swooshing” of the paddle coming down on me again. Tidwell took his time as he was enjoying doing it. Foot; swoosh, bang, springs moving and me trying not to scream out. I lost count after thirty-five (35) whacks. When he was done with me, Tidwell made me stay and watch him beat the other boy.
My friend could not take the pain, his screams resounded through the White House, and I knew at that moment that they could beat me but they could never beat me down. It took weeks before the injuries healed. Internally I was really screwed up. The bruises faded but the hatred grew. That was the first time I was beaten.
The second time came when my friend and I ended up again on the same crew. I think they set us up to run but I could never prove it. The day we decided to take off, we were in an okra field. They had just called a break so my friend and I went to sit down beneath a shade tree. He said we should take off right now; we could be miles away before they even knew we were gone. I was just dumb enough to think I could get away so, off we went. We followed a stream until we came upon a town.
The sun was going down and it was really getting cold. My friend spotted a plane in a field. We went over to it and I told him I wished I knew how to fly. He said his father had a plane and he could fly it. I was crazy but not that crazy, I said “no way.” We were lucky enough to find warm shirts in the plane and some food. We kept going. The next morning we were walking on the railroad tracks when I spotted a State Trooper looking right at us. We started to run. He fired warning shots over our heads and said if we did not stop, he would let his dog do the rest. We surrendered. We were brought to the Sheriff’s station and we sat there until the “State car” showed up to take us back to FSB.
This time Tidwell showed no mercy. He wailed on both of us with that paddle for what seemed like hours. The next few days were a blur. It took a long time to heal but I never tried to run after that. I seem to remember one more trip to “the White House” before I was released but I cannot remember why.
I know I saw a boy being shot at. I do not know if they hit him or not. I also saw Tidwell and another man hauling a black boy out of “the White House” in a wheelbarrow and he was brought across the street. I have no idea what happened to him or if he was even alive, he was limp when they put him in the wheelbarrow.
Some things I do not remember. After I left there, I tried to block it out of my mind totally. Dredging all of this up after fifty years is difficult. I know it affected my life. I went on to commit crimes and spent time in jail. I did not get my life together until I was in my forties. I have not committed any crimes in the past thirty years. Other problems have plagued me over the years and I know in my heart it all stemmed from the thirteen (13) months and three (3) days that I spent at FSB.
This is my story to the best of my recollection and I will swear to it in a court of law.
George F. Schools
A “White House Boy”