SO MANY OF the Dozier related posts on Finding Florida have been about the school itself. I’ve written about the dark history, the structures & our experiences BUT I’ve only really spoken of the victims, in generalities. This was never done on purpose; It was mostly out of respect to the victims, those who survived & those who did not, & of course the families of both groups. It may have also been a way to avoid getting too close & personal; At the end of the day I’m a mom of a 9-year-old & an Auntie to a 5-year-old, both boys. To look at them knowing that boys of the same age were forcibly plucked from their homes & placed into an environment that would change, if not end their lives makes me physically ill. Whatever the reason, it’s time to talk about the MOST important part of this entire endeavor, the reason why I’m willing to continue this uphill battle:
A MOTHER’S FIGHT FOR JUSTICE
IT WAS A late December night when I would get a call that would again change the direction that I was going. I answered & heard “Jenn, It’s Dawn Chase.” I was floored. I had seen her son’s story & had felt compelled to send her an email a couple of months before. The problem was that the open letter that she had posted on the website was written years before. I knew I was taking a chance using the contact info that had been attached to it but what did I really have to lose at that point? Thankfully, she did happen to see my email!
DURING THAT CALL, I told her about what I was trying to do & what had happened so far. I also told her about how I had gotten her son’s name to begin with. He had been the very last name on a list of about 15 other boys that another former Dozier boy had given to me. This list was different than the others…The Boys on this list had ALL served time at the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys in the 2000’s & EVERY single one of them could attest to the abuse that was happening at the school. These Boys were “Game Changers!” NOT only would they be able to back up the claims of the Whitehouse Boys that had been there in the 50’s & 60’s BUT they could also offer proof that the abuse NEVER stopped. Marianna didn’t care about changing OR righting the wrongs of the past; They just wanted it ALL to go away, whatever the cost may be. If I had to guess, I’d say it’s a pretty safe bet that there were kids being beaten until the very day that Dozier closed its doors in 2011.
A LIFE INTERRUPTED
HIS NAME IS Christopher Sholly. He is a son, a brother, an uncle, an aspiring model…And yes, he is also yet another unfortunate victim of the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys. Chris’s story runs a bit broader though as Dozier would be only one of many stops in Florida’s Juvenile Justice system; ALL would fail him miserably. What started as a couple of tees having a fight at school would result in a 13-year-old boy becoming entangled in Florida’s corrupt Juvenile Justice System for the next 4 years; ONLY ending when he would be herded into the dark abyss of adult prison life. There would be NO trying out for his high school sports team, NO nervous fidgeting while he attempted to ask a girl to homecoming OR prom. He wouldn’t even have the luxury of celebrating the remaining birthdays of his teenage years at home with his family. All of the things that most of us take for granted.
IT WOULD BE the Fall of 2004 when Chris would 1st come into contact with the Arthur G Dozier School for Boys. Near completion of his program at the Jackson Juvenile Offenders Center (JJOCC), he was looking forward to finally going home & getting on with his life. Claiming that they needed to free up spots for Juveniles that were considered “flight risks”, Chris was sent to Dozier.
HE WAS ASSURED that his credits from the JJOC program would transfer with him, So he believed that he would complete his remaining time at AGDSB & be released on schedule. By now, we ALL know that Dozier doesn’t offer happy endings. Chris would be NO exception.
FROM THE MOMENT he stepped foot onto the campus, he was taunted, severely beaten & verbally assaulted. When he wasn’t being personally abused, he had to witness others receive the same treatment. But Chris did his best to stick it out, knowing he was only a matter of weeks from getting his life back. It would be when he started to fear for his life that he would finally say something.
DURING A PHONE call with his mom, Chris had the courage to tell her what was happening at the school. His mom, doing what most loving moms would do, immediately went to authorities. The Florida Department of Children & Families (DCF) was called in to “investigate.”
NOT ONE FREAKING thing happened! Now maybe a proper investigation was done & it was decided that this was just another case of a pissed off “juvenile delinquent” throwing around claims of abuse to get back at everyone for locking him up. That’s just got to be the case, right??
IF THAT THOUGHT crossed your mind, I can assure you that you couldn’t be more wrong! As it turns out, the DCF caseworker assigned to investigate the claims of abuse was conveniently related to a Dozier staff member. But NOT just ANY staff member …It was THE staff member accused of abuse.
IT MAKES ME sad to think about what so many children are now privy to at such a young age. It goes way beyond a child finding out that “Santa’s NOT Real” OR discovering that NOT all fairytales will have a happy ending. It’s realizing that the “Boogeyman” not only exists BUT takes the form of a man who is given too much power & has too much evil & hate inside. Being in such a position could be a good thing, if you decide to use that power to impact a child’s life positively. Obviously, most of the Dozier staff made a very different choice OR we’d all be hearing an entirely different story today. Yet, how powerful can you possibly be when your chosen victim is a child?
THE ANSWER IS quite simple; Beating a 13-year-old unconscious OR breaking his bones does NOT make a king BUT a coward. These real life “Boogeymen” would finally meet their match in the form of a teenaged boy. He may have been scared to death of not getting to go home OR worse, NOT making it out of the system alive, yet he decided to stand up for what was right.
“BUT I’M NOT AN ADULT”
IN SPITE OF the extreme retaliation that he would face, Chris would continue to report the abuse to his mom during their phone calls. She, in turn, began a crusade to get her son out of Dozier. Dawn spent her days reaching out to ANY official that she thought could help. She wasn’t going to stop until her boy was either transferred to another facility OR was sent home. Chris would eventually be transferred out of Dozier, though it wouldn’t be in a positive way. With approximately 6 years left until Dozier would finally close its doors for good, they weren’t about to allow another blemish to mark their record. The superintendent came up with a plan to keep that from happening; File assault charges on Chris stating that he had assaulted a guard & this time, they would make sure that he wouldn’t step foot inside another juvenile facility…This time he would be charged as an adult.
EVEN WITH THE evidence & witness testimony supporting Chris’s version of events, the corruption ran too deep…At just 17 years old, Chris became a child inmate sent to serve his sentence in a VERY adult prison.
ALTHOUGH I DID my best to tell Chris’s story, I barely scratched the surface of what he’s gone through. Fortunately, he kept a detailed journal documenting what he went through & with the help of his mom, compiled entries, letters & other important info…They then made ALL of the content public. If you’re interested in hearing his account, here is the link:
I STRONGLY SUGGEST taking a few minutes to read through these entries… Besides, who better to tell this story but Chris himself?
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☆ IF YOU OR SOMEONE YOU KNOW SUFFERED ABUSE, PASSED AWAY, WENT MISSING OR WITNESSED ANY WRONGDOINGS WHILE AT “THE FLORIDA INDUSTRIAL SCHOOL FOR BOYS” AKA “THE ARTHUR G. DOZIER SCHOOL FOR BOYS” OR THE OKEECHOBEE SCHOOL FOR BOYS, PLEASE REACH OUT VIA HERE AT findingflorida.blog OR ANY OF THE CONTACT INFO LISTED BELOW!!☆
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