A Century of Pain, Former Dozier Student Speaks Up
MARIANNA - It's a chilling history lesson out of the Florida Panhandle.
The sordid past of the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys is riddled with tales of disappearances and brutal beatings from the 50s and 60s. It garnered national attention after 49 bodies were found buried in unmarked graves.
And the news reports have inspired some former students at the Dozier School to come forward.
J.C. Porter, a former student at the school in 1957 who now lives in Fort White, reached out to TV-20 News to tell of beatings and disappearances he says he witnessed during his sentence at the school.
"It's a place you don't want to go," said Porter, a place where "bad boys" were sent to straighten up. Porter was 13-years-old when he was caught for trespassing and vandalizing in Alachua County—a crime that got him a year at the reform school.
The Dozier School was formerly known as the Florida State Reform School in Marianna. The school opened in 1900 and closed in 2011, a time many former students call a century of pain. This is why Governor Rick Scott and the other members of the Florida Cabinet have allowed University of South Florida anthropologists to exhume an estimated 50 graves on the school grounds.
The first of many phases came to an end Tuesday. The anthropologists' dig will go well into the fall. The hope is to clear up how many boys died there and, more importantly, how they died.
Though Porter was never severely punished, he saw others who were.
Those boys were to taken to a white building known as the "White House," what many boys referred to as the "Ice Cream Factory."
"The house was white but they made ice cream out of your butt," Porter said.
"And they'd lay you on the bed and you'd have to grab a hold of the army bed," Porter said. "You'd grab the rail and if you'd turn loose of that rail they started all over. A lot of boys didn't come out of there alive."
Porter said the boys used to bite down on the rail so hard they'd break their teeth off.
"I had been in there and cleaned up the blood off the floor—mopped it, scrubbed it, everything. I found a couple of teeth in the pillow, as a matter of fact," he said.
It's testimony similar to this from the 50s and 60s that has triggered research. USF anthropologists have begun digging up dozens of graves in order to get some answers.
A 2010 FDLE investigation did not find enough physical evidence to support bringing criminal charges of physical or sexual abuse, stating "with the passage of over fifty years, no tangible physical evidence was found to either support or refute the allegations." But the rolls of the school list many boys who inexplicably disappeared. The boys went missing, Porter said, often after a trip to the Ice Cream Factory.
"And don't ever see them no more and you wonder where they went—'cause you know there's no other reformatory school up there anywhere," he said.
It's been 55 years since Porter was at Dozier. He's been living here in North Central Florida. That year he spent at the reform school is a memory he says he will never forget.
"It taught me a lesson," he said. "Don't get in trouble again."
The researchers will return in the fall to dig up the other graves. Porter said he has not reached out to FDLE about what he witnessed, but he's considering telling his story to officials.
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