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September 9, 2009
Mr. Gregory J. Hoag
Masterson Law Group
699 First Avenue North
St. Petersburg, Florida 33701
Dear Mr. Hoag:
Thank you for your recent letter and the opportunity to provide my comments about my experiences at the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys at Marianna, and join in the current law suit. I will try to include all the things I can remember from my incarceration there. As you can imagine, fifty five years is a long time to remember anything; however, what happened to me at Marianna remains clearly imprinted in my memory even while most of the time now days I can hardly remember what I had for breakfast.
Here goes. I think I was sent to Marianna by Judge Theo Bruno, the juvenile judge in Pensacola in the summer of 1956. I can date that by the following. Soon after arriving at Marianna, as a member of the football team, we took a trip to the boys’ school in Little Rock, Arkansas. I remember that National Guard troops were in the streets at that time, and the boys in that school told us why they were there. Nine black children were trying to integrate the school system there in Little Rock. I looked on the Internet and found that event had occurred around September 3, 1957. You asked if I had any photos, I may be able to locate one.
I played the following: football, basketball, boxing, and track. The coach for all sports was Frank Zych. The boxing instructor was Dykes Thurman, who was a truly good man. I made “Honorable Mention All Conference” in basketball and held the state record for the 110-yd high hurdles.
The following people are all I can remember now: Boys: Mike Squires, still the best boxer I have ever seen; Billy Camits, both were on the boxing team with me. Camits also played football and basketball with me; Charlie King played baseball and ran track. I also remember that the gym was next to the football field. The Men, guards, I remember are: One-armed Tidwell, a really evil man who beat me severely once and; Mr. Hatton, who beat me three times. I thought at the time Tidwell’s wife worked at the hospital, Bryant Middleton says he doesn’t think she did, so maybe I am wrong. Whoever did work in the hospital, whether Tidwell’s wife or not, was very mean. . We had heard that she and her husband had been tied up by two escapees and that they had both been raped. Dr Currie was the school shrink and resident pervert. Enough said.
The first time I went to the “White House” for my first beating, I really think they thought they had killed me because they took me to the hospital for her to check me over, and they left me there over night, which is as the other men will tell you, is unheard of. I received no treatment whatsoever while in the hospital.
The beating: The “paddling’ is indescribable, but I will do my best. They came to the “cottage” (our living quarters) around 11:00 PM and told me to come with them. We were forced to sleep in nothing but a thin cotton nightgown, our clothes were locked up at night, we believed to prevent escape attempts. The first thing I did was to head for my locker to get dressed. Mr. Burkhart (or Burkheart), the “cottage father” where I stayed, grabbed my arm and grinning said “You ain’t gonna need no clothes boy.” I knew I was in the shit now. But how bad could it be? , My daddy wore my ass out all the time, and that was no walk in the park, but I could deal with it. What could these pricks do that he couldn’t? Read on.
They put me in back of a black‘53 Ford and away we went. I was still OK even then. I was not scared, but now I was getting apprehensive, but I was still bullet proof at this point. However, you’ll hopefully never know how naked you feel riding in the back of a ‘53 Ford in a cotton night gown with three grown men in the middle of the night knowing you were in for an ass “whipping.” Hatton was driving, Burkhart was in the passenger seat and that one armed prick Tidwell was next to me. I asked where we were going, and Hatton said “Down the road a ways”. Now I got scared! Maybe they were going to kill me; after all, we had heard the stories about other boys being killed at Marianna. We pulled up to #4 cottage I believe and out came another poor soul into the backseat.
It’s hard to admit even after 55 years, but I was glad that somebody was there with me. Burkhart said, “I think it will take you three this time.” Hatton said “I bet you a dollar it’ll just take one.” I didn’t realize for years that those bastards were talking about my blood and how many blows it would take to spill it. We pulled up to the White House and all got out. The White House was a small concrete building that was no more than 10 to 12 feet wide and 20 to 30 feet long and had only two rooms. Hatton went in and we were told to follow. We sat down and waited. Hatton said:”Come on Middlebrooks, lay face down and grab that rail up there. Do you know why you’re on that bed tonight?” Now that I realized they weren’t going to kill me and I was bulletproof again, but not stupid. I said “No sir I haven’t done anything.” Hatton said “OK son you need to bite into that pillow and hold on, if you holler in Mr. Tidwell’s ear, we goin’ to start all over again.” I stuck my face in that pillow, I wasn’t about to bite it, it was horribly nasty. I know now that it had the blood of hundreds on it. The next five seconds are indelibly imprinted on my mind and will be ‘till the day I die. I heard this scrapping sound along the floor, then along the wall, the ceiling, and the next sound was a shotgun right behind me, then unbelievable pain. I knew right then that I had been wrong, that they were killing me, and I did what I thought was the only wise thing to do: I tried to run! Tidwell was in the doorway so I put my head right on his belt buckle, and in my best block to date, I nailed that prick. He grabbed me with that good arm, and it was over. In my life, I have been beat with a ball bat and shot at with a .45 automatic at close range, but after each one of those things was over, I’d always say “Hell, you think that was scary? Let me tell you about getting my ass whipped down in Florida by this red necked motherfucker”. Back to the bed: Now Burkhart sat on my head and Tidwell sat on my feet and Hatton worked his magic on my ass. I counted till about 30 or so blows and then I either passed out or just lost count. The boy, who was with me, the one waiting his turn, told me later that Hatton hit me 45 times. I do remember scrape, scrape, scrape, boom when that paddle hit my ass. I could never explain how bad it hurt.
Right after the beating, which apparently did more damage than they expected, they took me to the hospital. Later they went back to beat the other boy. I don’t remember anything till the next morning when the nurse hit my teenage morning erection with a pencil while I was asleep for dreaming something bad or god knows what was on her mind. After a day in the hospital, with no medical attention whatsoever, they sent me back to the dorm where two things happened: first the boys wet down the nightgown and worked it out of the damaged flesh on my ass, lower back and thighs to my knees. You see, when you are hit that hard with a four-inch wide strap, it actually drives the material into your flesh. The only treatment I received for my wounds was from my cottage roommates, there had been none at the “hospital.” I was beaten three more times after that, by Hatton twice and Tidwell once.
When I got my first beating at Marianna, my best friend there was Danny Cottrell. When he saw what they had done, he took a picture of my butt and was going to give it to his mother. Danny’s mom was a jailer in Pinellas County. I never knew what happened to his film because he and I were separated shortly after that.
One more story about Burkhart. We weren’t allowed to smoke at the cottages, so naturally we tried to as often as we could. We would pick up cigarette butts dropped by visiting parents. The cottage fathers stayed above our dorms. One night in December, Burkhart thought he smelled smoke and ordered us all out on the street in back of the cottage in nothing but those thin cotton gowns. It was so cold out there that the ground had frozen; we had to keep standing on one foot and changing to keep them from freezing to the ground, which was asphalt and gravel. He made us stay out two hours while he sat inside looking out the window as punishment. Oh, I should mention, it was raining.
The last paddling I received was twelve blows from Tidwell. This beating was for a comment I made to Arthur Dozier. Shortly before my release in 1958 as I recall, I was taken into Dozier’s office where he asked me: “Joe, what have you learned at the Boys’ School? My reply to him was: “I learned to say “motherfucker” and eat with a spoon.” I was released soon after my wounds healed. My comment to Dozier remains my sentiments today regarding the rehabilitation and “reform” nature of my experience at the Marianna “School” for Boys. I remain curious to this day how someone could have been so vain to having a place like this institution named after himself while allowing and actively participating in what went on there.
I hope that this will be of some help to you. Just writing it has been both helpful and difficult for me. Please let me know if I can be of further assistance. I am willing to provide an affidavit and deposition, under polygraph, if desired. My willingness to continue contributing anything I can comes from my lifelong hatred of domestic violence, particularly toward children. I have realized that child abuse has contributed to many of my personal problems and those of others I have known. I would like to do what I can to insure that shameful events such as commonly happened at the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys at Marianna can never occur anywhere else in our country.
PS No one in authority has ever told me why they beat us at night, or why they beat us at all.