He told me that he was forced to lay face down on a bed, already bloody from his predecessors, to take his beating. "At least they allowed us to scream. I was black and blue. I looked like someone had stuck a needle in me, with pin holes of blood."
Later, Staley was assigned a job in the infirmary, where he witnessed other boys beaten horribly, some after 100 lashes. "They looked like hamburger meat."
Their horror stories matched other findings over the years by outside officials. In 1958, Miami psychologist Eugene Byrd told a U.S. Senate committee that he had seen brutal beatings "dealt with a great deal of force with a full arm swing over his head and down, with a strap, a leather strap approximately a half-inch thick and about 10 inches long with a wooden formed handle."
In 1968, Gov. Claude Kirk made a surprise visit to the Dozier School. He emerged stunned by what he found. "If one of your kids were kept in such circumstances, you’d be up there with rifles," he said.
School officials, pressed by investigators and reporters, admitted that their guards “may have gotten out of hand.” One former superintendent told the Tampa Bay Times, “I think there were some who might have enjoyed it on our staff. Might have enjoyed the over-spanking.”
After state officials forced the sadists at Dozier to finally stop the beatings, the guards simply changed tactics. In 1982, there were revelations that Dozier kids had been regularly "hogtied and kept in isolation for weeks at a time." In 1985, it was discovered that troublesome boys were simply sent over to the Jackson County Jail, where jailers would handcuff kids hands behind their backs, attach chains to the cuffs that were looped over a high bar so the boys could be hoisted, backward, until his feet left the floor. It was as if the mistreatment of prisoners was integral to the local culture. Four jailers were charged with aggravated child abuse by torture. They were fined and placed on probation. None were given prison sentences.
Such horrors were not just the stuff of ancient history. Last December, the U.S. Justice Department released details of an investigation into new allegations of abuse. The report said Dozier inmates "were subjected to conditions that placed them at serious risk of avoidable harm."
The 2011 report added, "During our investigation, we received credible reports of misconduct by staff members to youth within their custody. The allegations revealed systemic, egregious, and dangerous practices exacerbated by a lack of accountability and controls."
The report claimed, "Staff used excessive force on youth (including prone restraints) sometimes in off-camera areas not subject to administrative review." And "Youth were often disciplined for minor infractions through inappropriate uses of isolation and extensions of confinement for punishment and control."
But by then, the state had finally given up on Dozier and its 111-year culture of brutal treatment, the use of children as peonage labor, the unexplained deaths, the cover-ups and, perhaps, multiple murders. The school was closed last year.
Staley, who lives in Clearwater, notes that no one has ever gone to jail for these abuses. The man he calls the "whipmaster," the guard who beat him and so many of the kids during his stint at Dozier, still lives in Marianna. Other residents in rural Jackson County surely know about the crimes that unfolded in Dozier, including the fatal beatings. "Everybody got away with this. There’s a culture of silence in Marianna. But people there know what happened. They know where the other bodies were buried. They just won’t say."
But with 19 more bodies discovered on the Dozier grounds, with USF researchers suggesting that surely other graves sites are hidden on that awful campus, maybe the FDLE will take another, harder look at this awful place. There’s no statute of limitation for the murder of children.