By Sid Riley
A Multitude of past employees rise to defend the honor of Dozier School.
The recent negative publicity about treatment of residents at Arthur G. Dozier School For boys (Formally Florida Industrial School for Boys) which has now spread to international proportions has generated outrage from many local residents who worked there during the era in question. They feel that they are the victims of a "witch hunt" motivated by media sensationalism and the personal greed of two former detainees of that reform school.
Since the school was opened in 1900 there have been hundreds of thousands of man hours expended by thousands of hard working employees who were dedicated to helping the wayward boys who were sent there. As a result of their work, thousands of Florida’s troubled youth were positively influenced. Many of these former employees have now come forward in defense of the administration of that period, and the environment which existed on the campus of Dozier at that time. This feature will present their side of the story.
We will be presenting this story in several parts in sequential issues. We are beginning with interviews conducted with the past Superintendent of Dozier School for Boys, Lenox Williams. He is retired and still resides in the Marianna area.
Sid Riley – " Please describe the environment at Dozier during the many years you worked at the campus."
Lenox Williams – "You have to realize that the campus conditions, the composition of the residents, established policies, public practices, laws, social norms, levels of staffing and funding, and many other related factors were all in a state of evolution during the 108 years Dozier has existed. You can not take the standards of today, the expectations of today, and the legalities of today and apply them to any past era. We had an open, unsecured campus with full public access. Our resident population consisted of everything from poor little eight year olds, who should not have been there to mean, cruel young adults that were capable of killing. We had over 900 detainees and a staff of only 143 employees. With what resources and funding we had available, our staff delivered more than what could have been expected. They had good food, loving care, good medical treatment, free education, sports programs, and fair treatment. Every cottage had a resident parent who lived upstairs, most of them with their families. Their children played with the residents, and a wholesome, family type relationship existed in many instances. "
Sid Riley – What do you mean when you say the "type" of resident changed?
Lenox Williams – "At the beginning of my term there the population consisted of many, many unfortunate young boys who were the products of broken homes, had no parents, and were ‘street children’ in our cities. They had been deemed as ‘incorrigible’ by the authorities, perhaps for some minor incident, and sentenced to Dozier. Many of them were so innocent and young you could not help loving them. A small percentage of the population was cruel criminals that were mixed into the population. Some were homosexual. Some had mental illnesses. There were no programs to help these individuals. Today, the mix has been segregated so that these various categories have their own places and treatment programs within the State systems."
The fencing was completed in 1982, and it then became a restricted campus. It was installed after the Jackson family incident occurred when three runaway youths were trying to steal a car at the Jackon home and ended up severely beating and injuring the father, son and mother who resided at the home."
Riley- Was it common for boys to escape and run?
Lenox Williams – "Sure, we had those that chose to run away. Often it was just before they were to be released and they did not want to return to their former lives. On other occasions it was because they were under pressure from other boys. Of course some wanted to go home because they were homesick. Sometimes the older boys would run just to go on a binge and to hopefully see some girls. The hardened criminals escaped at times in an effort to return to their criminal lifestyles. I think you will always have some of this occur anytime you try to restrict the movement of people."
Was homosexuality and sexual abuse a problem?
Lenox Williams –" I am sure some homosexual incidents took place. I assure you that it never took place with the knowledge of my administration. It might have happened in a ‘boy on boy’ condition, but to my knowledge never occurred between an administrator and a boy. I did have a couple of employees through the years that I was suspicious of their motives, so I quickly had them removed from the staff."
Riley – Tell me about the infamous "white house".
Lenox Williams – " Sure, we whipped their butts if they misbehaved, broke the established rules, and deserved it. Giving a student a whipping was very legal, very accepted, and very anticipated. In my opinion, it had a positive effect on the boys and the campus. It was always done in a controlled, supervised manner, and did not constitute abuse in any way by the standards of that time. There was a policy which listed how many licks they got for various offenses. It was no different than the same type of punishment being administered in every school in the nation at that time. The descriptions being printed about the inhuman beatings of a hundred licks, and the types of paddles used has been greatly distorted by time and/or the media. The outlandish claims of using giant whips and causing blood to splatter are all false.
Riley – Do you believe any boys were ever killed and their bodies hidden?
Lenox Williams – "Absolute Hogwash Bull****! We had a boy drown in the swimming pool, another drown on a fishing trip, and one boy was killed by another boy and left in a drain culvert, but there certainly was nothing hidden or clandestine about those incidents. I do not believe anything such as hidden bodies and administration caused deaths ever happened throughout the entire 100 years of the school’s history, …I know for sure it never happened on my watch!"
" It is unfortunate that the grave yard was not properly recorded and maintained during past eras."
Riley – Do you have any opinions about the claims past residents are making which make Dozier appear to be a cruel, terrible place?
Lenox Williams – "These gentlemen who are making these claims were there before I came onto the scene, but I am very suspicious of their motives. I think their motives may be driven by hopes of books, movies, or a claim against the State. They openly stated they were inspired by the Anderson incident down in Bay County. I think the inspiration may have been generated by the $5,000,000 settlement our fine politicians chose to give that unfortunate family. Some of their statements and claims are so outlandish I can not give any credence to them."
"In my opinion it is all exaggerations which are motivated by hopes for making money on books, movies and other means from opportunities created by the sensationalism. Some unfortunate things happened over the 100 year history of the institution, but many, many positive, good things also happened. Anything that was bad happened because of the acts of an individual who was bad, not because of accepted practices. Remember, corporal punishment was legal, widely accepted, and was being used in almost every public and private school in the nation at the time these events were claimed to have occurred."
This story will continue next week.