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Robert "Bob" Sealander
I have always heard that there are two sides to every story.
Generally, when one investigates a situation they tend to push and lean toward their side of the issue. I guess this is where the saying came from: "There are three sides to every story. There is his side of the story and then there is her story; and then there is the truth." This might very well be what has happened here.
For years I investigated and have tried to expose the atrocities that happened to hundreds of boys at the Florida School for Boys at Marianna and at FSB Okeechobee.
It never occurred to me that some of the perpetrators might also have become victims. I think this is the case of Robert Sealander, my former cottage house-father.
In spit of all the fear, brutality and molestations that were happening at the Florida Industrial School for Boys; Robert Sealander always treated the boys in Cleveland Cottage with respect and kindness. He was firm at times and that was understandable. After all, society had appointed him to look after 30 or 40 up and coming criminals; juvenile delinquents who were smoking cigarettes, skipping school and listening to that ungodly Elvis Presley character that was poisoning the virgin minds of America's youth.
Having lived my entire childhood in a Jacksonville, Florida orphanage, I became a "Ward of the Court" as I constantly ran away from the Children's Home Society; mainly because I had become Matron Mother Winters' favor play toy from the age of six to age twelve.
I served a second term at FSB because I refused to return to the orphanage after having been released from the Marianna reform school the first time.
Over a period of sixteen months I witnessed many beatings, molestations and a few deaths. Living in total fear each and everyday; the only protection I had from Robert Currie, Mr. Hatton and Troy Tidwell was my cottage house-father, Robert Sealander.
Maybe Mr. Sealander was not as great a fellow as I now believe. I really don't know. But what I do know is that when a scared little child has absolutely nothing in his life, (except fear) any protection is better than having none at all.
After leaving the school, I left that aspect of my life behind. Filed away, in the far reaches of my "beady little mind' were the memories of the beatings, molestations and cruelness I had suffered as a young boy. But in the almost vacant file next door were the one or two memories of the three people who had been kind to me.
When I became a man I put away "childish things", but the memories stored in my mind formed me into the person I am today.
When I sat down to write the book "The White House Boys-An American Tragedy" it never occurred to me that the terrible atrocities happening at the FSB School might have also affected a few of the staff members.
As the stories began to come in; I was surprised to learn that my former cottage house-father Robert Sealander had been promoted to the position of "Home Life Supervisor" and that he too had began beating the boys at the White House Torture Chamber. I could hardly believe what I was reading. A feeling of sadness came over me that I still cannot shake even to this day. Immediately, I began to once again try and find the whereabouts of Robert Sealander.
Within days, I had learned that he left his position at the Florida School for Boys in 1964 and had joined the Peace Corps to work with children in Puerto Plata. He and Joseph Deslaurier worked together to form a "Boys Club" which was very successful and very beneficial to the children of that community. Yesterday, I contacted the family of Mr. Sealander and learned that he died about ten years ago. He never married and lived the remainder of his life in his small house in San Juan Puerto Rico. He began painting and sold his art work to the various cruise ships vacationers when they came into port. It was noted that Robert "Bob" Sealander was never the same after leaving the school at Marianna. It is my belief that he was mentally unable to deal with having to beat boys in such a manner. Joining the Peace Corps was his way of trying to right a few of the wrongs and the demons that he had allowed to enter his life.
I certainly have made a lot of mistakes in my life and I sure than many others have also. If I, and others, cannot find it in our heart to forgive Mr. Sealander; then how can we expect others to forgive us for our misgivings?
It brings my heart my much joy to know that I will one day leave this earth having respect for a kind and considerate man that I once knew as my friend Robert Sealander.
Yes, the abuses at the Florida School for Boys at Marianna took a toll on both the boys as well as a few of the staff members.