Saturday, March 15, 2008

Richard Markwalter

Memories of Marianna by Richard (Paul) Markwalter

The date was March 28, 1961, a date I will never forget. It was my mother’s birthday. It was also the date I was committed to the Florida School for Boys (FSB) at Marianna by Judge Davis of Broward County Juvenile Court. I
was 16 at the time and getting into trouble with the law for the previous 4 years or so. I was kept at Junior Haven, a juvenile detention center in Ft. Lauderdale, until April 23 when along with another boy I was driven about 500 miles from Ft. Lauderdale to FSB at Marianna. We arrived in Tallahassee early evening and the other boy and I had to spend the night in the county jail. The next morning we were picked up and taken to FSB. The other boy who was black was dropped off first on the black side of the campus on the other side of the main road because segregation was still being practiced then. As we pulled onto the campus I was surprised to see no fences or walls. Soon I would find out why.

Starting at the age of 8, I spent two years at St. Benedict’s Catholic boarding school near Dade City FL. I ran away my last year there. I was acting out and my parents just didn’t know what to do. In hindsight I believe it was due to my feelings of not being loved and emotionally supported by them. That’s not to say my parents didn’t love me, but they did not show it as far as an 8-year-old boy could see. When I was 11 I was sent to Miami Military Academy in Miami FL. I ran away my only year there. When I was 14 I ran away from home.

The 2 juvenile officers, with me in the back seat, pulled up to the administration building and checked me in. I was assigned to Adams Cottage, also referred to as number 10. At first I didn’t like my cottage father but soon came to like and respect the man. One day soon after my arrival a boy angered my cottage father who grabbed him with both hands by the front of his shirt, pinned him to the wall, and raised him off of his feet. He proceeded to chew him out with name-calling and threats. I remember commenting to another boy “what a son-of-a-bitch”. The
other boy said “not really”, the chewing out would last about 3 minutes and be done with, much better than getting a “grade”.

FSB had a grading system, which was how I would have to work my way out since I was committed, not sentenced. A commitment is for an undetermined amount of time where a sentence is for a specified amount of time. On arrival all boys would start out as Explorer, then advance to Pioneer after 4-6 weeks if they didn’t receive a low
grade. Then if they walked the straight and narrow they could advance to Pilot and then Ace. Grades would be given periodically, about every 4-6 weeks by the cottage father, schoolteacher and work supervisor. School and workdays would alternate. Sat and Sun would be off days. But a low grade, what we simply called a “grade”, could
and would be given at any time for an infraction of the strict rules. The lowest grade was a zero and would immediately drop a boy’s rank to Grub regardless of his current rank. When a boy was a Grub and got a grade there was no rank to take away so he would “go down”. If a boy ran away, talked about running, or did not report
a boy who “talked about it,” he would “go down,” regardless of rank. To “go down” meant that a boy would be taken down a gently sloped hill about 200 yards from the head office, to the White House. There a “spanking” could be administered. That’s what they called it. It was actually a beating delivered with a leather strap which I never saw but definitely felt and heard. Around a month or so into my stay at FSB I was accused of stealing a T-Shirt. There was no trial. When the grades came out I had a 0 for stealing. When I inquired about the 0 I was told, “you stole a T-shirt”.

One day after being demoted to Grub I was called to the boss’ office. He said I was seen smoking and would get a “spanking” and to wait outside the office on the bench. After what seemed like hours but was probably 10-20 minutes the bosses came from their office and we proceeded down the hill. I remembered what another boy had
told me about what it was like to “go down” and was mentally preparing myself. When we got to the White House we entered through the side door which was locked.

As I write this I am getting that same feeling of fear and nausea in the pit of my stomach as I did 47 years ago.

We walked in, passed through a narrow 10‘ long corridor, turned left then a quick right and entered a small 8’ x 10’ room, which used to be a cell. I could see where bars had been cut out of the doorway. There was a cot with a thin mattress and a steel frame with an arched bar at the head and foot. I was told to lay on the bed, hold on to the bar at the head of the bed, face the wall, do not scream or say anything at all unless asked. They would often ask questions about other boys while on the bed. I was also told not to look at them or try to get off of the bed. I
did as told. Then a loud fan was turned on. Soon I heard the foot pivot on the floor, then the paddle scrape the low ceiling, and the landing on my buttocks just as my smoking buddy described. He had told me to tighten my ass just before the blow landed. I did so and thought, “that’s not so bad”. After the third blow all the air cushion had been expelled from my Levi jeans and then the pain really started. I was also advised by my buddy to count the blows as it would make the time go faster. So I did. I remember it seemed like an eternity between blows as if they wanted time for each blow to register. By the time we got to 20 it was the worst pain I had ever experienced. When the count got to 27 it was over and I was told to get up and run back to my cottage. Later in the common shower the other boys told me that I got a “pinky”. My ass was a deep red but it was still considered a pinky. I was
not “busted” meaning the skin was not broken.

Time went on and before I worked my way out of the Grubs I went down again for talking in the dormitory after lights out. They said the dorm existed for one reason and that was for sleeping. This time I got 32 and my ass was a deep purple but was not busted.

Time continued to move on. I was out of the Grubs and Pioneer with 5s working my way to Pilot. Then one night in the dorm several boys and me sort of lost our composure and started having fun. We flipped mattresses and whole beds with the boys in them. The next day we found ourselves in the boss’ office. He asked me if I would
rather have a “spanking” or a grade. I told him I would rather have a “spanking”, as a grade would lengthen my stay at FSB. He said I was going to get a grade and a “spanking” due to the seriousness of the infraction – he called it a riot. I wondered why he bothered to ask what I wanted. This time I went down with 5 other boys. The other 2 times I went alone. On the way to the White House I asked the “spanker” if I could go first to get it over with. He did not respond to my request but said he knew that my 5s as Pioneer were not earned and was very
disappointed in me. This boss did not often do the “spanking” but when he did he could “bust” within the first 5 blows or so. I had seen the results of his work on a boy in my cottage. Flesh a deep purple, almost black and red from the blood and looking like raw hamburger. I was worried that he was going to wield the paddle. To my surprise my request was granted and I was allowed to go first. It was not that I had courage, quite the opposite. I didn’t want to hear the other boys getting it and have the long wait to get mine. As it happened the same guy did the “spanking” as my previous 2 times going down. I was relieved it was not the “buster”. I knew the drill and lay on the bed, gripped the head rail and faced the wall. The first few blows as before were not so bad but soon the
pain of each blow was excruciating. It seemed that he was really laying it on harder than the other times. I was counting licks and summoning all my will and strength to stay quiet and still. I tried crossing and uncrossing my legs, tightening and relaxing my ass, but nothing relieved the pain. The count got to the high 30s and I wondered if it would ever end. As the count got to the high 40s I did not know if I would be able to stay on the bed without being held down. Then it was over at 52. I was told to get up and wait in the alcove under the fan vent at the end of the corridor between the waiting room and the “spanking” room. I was glad I went first. The sounds of the other boy’s beatings were as frightening as my own even though I knew mine was over. One of the boys broke the protocol and started screaming and begging them to stop. They warned him to be quiet or they would get other boys to hold him down. He still begged so they sent for boys from the kitchen, which was nearby. I was glad I was not told to help hold him down. I was not sure I could do it without protest. It was known that if a boy refused to hold another boy down he would also get a beating and I was not ready for another on top of the one I just got.

I didn’t know it until I got back to my cottage and in the shower that this time I was busted in 3 places. My ass deep black/purple and my shorts were bloody from the right cheek.

I never cried from the beatings. Not because I am brave and have a high tolerance to pain, but because I was afraid of them going harder on me if I did cry.

After this trip to the White House I decided it was time to get out of that hellhole. I asked to transfer to the kitchen from the dental clinic. Kitchen boys worked every day and built up good time. Plus the longer hours would keep me busy with less time to get in trouble. My work station in the dining hall was about 50 yards from the White House and at least every other day I would hear the fan knowing that someone was getting a beating. Some time in April of 1962 I got my release date of May 22, 1962. As was allowed, I could ask any staff member to drive me to the bus station. I asked one of the dentists who was my work supervisor before I transferred to the kitchen. The dentists were interns not regular state staff, and had a different mindset. I felt compassion from them. On the way out of the gate as my friends were waving goodbye I broke down and cried. The dental intern asked why I was crying. I told him because I was so happy to finally be going home.

I am now 64 and as recently as 10 years ago I have had dreams about being sent back to FSB as an adult. In the dreams I would think “why would I be sent back here as an adult”? Then I think after waking up if I’m going to have a nightmare it may as well be about the worst experience of my life.

The White House should be left standing with the doors unlocked as a reminder of man’s inhumanity to children. Much agony was endured in that building and to tear the White House down would be denial that it ever happened. It did.

During my stay at FSB I know of 2 incidents where boys ran and never returned. It was rumored that one boy was shot in the back of the head by a bounty hunter. Dog boys from Apalachicola Prison Farm supposedly beat the other to death. I have no way of knowing if this is true.

Boys who ran received 100 plus whacks and sometimes spent time in solitary confinement, probably to heal before the other boys could see how badly they were busted up.

When I was in Junior Haven waiting to go to FSB I made a decision not to run from there, and not to run from FSB at Marianna. I would take this opportunity to start over with a clean slate. To this day I am glad for that decision.