Florida Reform School Survivor Roger Kiser: “There Was a Time…”
The White House Boys were abused juvenile inmates at the now-closed North Florida Youth Development Center, that was run by the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice. The ‘school’ closed last year, after running for 111 years, and the surviving White House Boys are now calling for a stop to child abuse.
On the campus was a building called The White House because of its color, where boys were placed in leg irons, beaten, raped, abused and tortured. Guards administered beatings with a three-foot leather and metal strap, and the beatings were often so severe that the boys’ underwear would become embedded into the skin and surgery was required to remove it. Here is a re-enactment video produced by Roger Dean Kiser and others:
This video contains graphic content.
Child advocate and author of The White House Boys: An American Tragedy, Roger Dean Kiser, established an activism/memorial website called thewhitehouseboys.com. Some of the surviving White House Boys traveled to Washington on June 22, to speak and rally in support of a bill to end United States corporal punishment in schools.
The trip did not go well. The speeches got no media coverage. The men are disheartened, and Mr. Kiser states that he is “not sure where to go from here.”
Here are Roger Dean Kiser’s speeches, delivered in Washington on June 21 and 22, 2012, and reprinted with permission.
THERE WAS A TIME WHEN I DID NOT LIKE MY COUNTRY
by Roger Dean Kiser
There was a time when I did not like my country. When I first arrived I was very small and all seem to be fine. There was a warm bed and every morning we kids got a small cardboard box of Corn Flakes with little bugs running out in every direction when you opened the package; but that was okay.
There didn’t seem to be any smiles or laughter in my country and there were certainly were never any hugs; but I was use to that and such things did not seem to be that important to me anyway.
My county was not very big maybe twenty acres or so, or so I thought. I always wondered how we could be at war with someone overseas in 1947 when we didn’t have any war stuff like guns, tanks, bombs and planes, stuff like that.
As the weeks passed I began to wonder who those strange people were living outside the six foot chain link fences which surrounded my country. No one on the outside of the fences ever seems to notice me.
By the time I was eight I began to actually hate my country. The yelling, screaming and weekly beatings were something I will remember for many years to come.
Those were my thoughts from the age of three to the age of twelve when I finally started high school and was able to walk outside the gates of the Children’s Home Society Orphanage located in Jacksonville, Florida.
By then I began to realize that those twenty some odd acres were really not my country but only a very small area within my country. However, by then the feelings about my country had already been soured.
It was less than three weeks before a few girls at Landon High School made fun of me and I was too embarrassed to enter the classroom. The next thing I knew I was in the Dean of Boy’s Office and bent over the desk being wacked with a large heavy wooden paddle with holes drilled in the end of it. After that beating I began to try and figure out how to protect myself and at any cost; even if it meant going to jail or even to prison. My entire attitude changed that day and not for the better.
It took many years for me to appreciate the freedoms and the variety of choices that my country was allowing me to have. It took many years for me to appreciate having the right to get a drink of water or use the bathroom without having to ask permission.
The point here is that young children and teens (for years) look at their immediate surroundings, whether it’s their home, a school or an institution, and based on how they are treated by the teachers and other adults entrusted with their care; that will form their opinion(s) of how good or bad their country actually is. I can assure you that there’s a lot more to a beating than the actual beating itself. It is the after effects that make a beating dangerous.
There may be some school paddling’s that may not have dire consequences. But personally, knowing how I felt at that time and my frame of mind after years of being beaten at the orphanage; is a paddling worth having even one person return to school one day and begin shooting everyone in sight. I don’t think so.
If those first school years are felt to be hateful and if they are beaten and mistreated; when they become of age, their feelings and thoughts about society as well as their country will also be hateful, distorted and remain only in the negative. If we love and respect our children then they will love, honor, respect society and its rules. No one wants to protect what they hate or despise. School paddlings only make the situation worse and if we have not learned that by now we have very serious problem at hand.
Corporal Punish in Schools (Friday)
by Roger Dean Kiser
Almost my entire first fourteen years on this earth was spent in an abusive Children’s Home Society Orphanage which was located in Jacksonville, Florida.
The beatings with the dreaded sandpaper bolo paddle or the green bamboo cane pole, along with the biweekly sexual molestations by Matron, Mother Winters was very hard for this young boy to bear. No matter who I turned to; not Judge Gooding, not my teachers, not my Sunday school teacher and not even old Topper, the old policeman, who walked the sidewalks surrounding the outside of the orphanage every afternoon would believe me or hear my cries for help.
There was very little doubt when I began high school that things would change. Why wouldn’t they? I mean the teachers were much older and much wiser, or so I thought.
As the weeks progressed I began to try and confide in my science teacher, Mr. Dampier and Mr. Young my math teacher. But they just looked upon me as being a very troubled young boy.
One day I was sent to the Dean of Boy’s Office because I was late for class. When asked why I was late I told the gentleman that a girl had made fun of my large ears and I was too embarrassed to enter the classroom. I had hoped that he might be considerate and try and understand how that hurt me. But no he did not. Within minutes I was bent over his desk and was being hit with a large wooden paddle with holes drilled in the end. When the beating was over I looked up into his face and he smiled a smile of pleasure. Right then and there I saw that people outside the orphanage were just a mean, cruel and inconsiderate as were the evil matrons working at the orphanage.
Two weeks later I was once again in his office for another nine licks for handing a girl a note. That school paddling, on top of the sandpaper polo paddle and that green bamboo cane pole beatings I got weekly at the orphanage, sure beat any feelings of love, respect or consideration that I might have for others completely out of me.
Many children who receive these in school paddlings already have severe emotional and psychological problems. Considering this important aspect; a teacher’s job is to teach in a positive and constructive manner but teaching a child how to hate by beating them with a paddle is neither positive nor constructive.
I am not sure what all that paddling did to me but I do know that it made me hate, despise and distrust those in authority. As a young man; never again would I trust any of them.
Several weeks later I ran away from the orphanage and I never returned to school. Over the next few years I made my way to the Florida Industrial School for Boys Reform School at Marianna where I was beaten bloody on two occasions. Then I made my way to prison for three years.
I was released from Prison on February 6th, 1969 and was never in trouble again. Over the next few years, with only a sixth grade education, I became a child advocate, the author of 30 books on child abuse and became one of the top contributing authors to the Chicken Soup for the Soul Book Series.
There is not a day that goes by that I do not think about those orphanage, high school and reform school beatings and how cruel and inconsiderate people can be.
Teachers are supposed to teach but when they beat a child all they have taught them is how to hate. Hopefully, that aspect of teaching agenda will be taken off the program very shortly.
Author, Roger Dean Kiser
The White House Boys site is here.