BROOKSVILLE - Representatives of The White House Boys visited with the youth of Eckerd for the 5th year in a row. They brought with them a new radio for every dorm, but more importantly, advice to heed. The Eckerd Kids program is a residential program for youth with substance abuse related issues who are in the juvenile justice system.
The White House Boys, titled themselves so because they all endured beatings at a building of that description on the campus of The Florida Industrial School for Boys in Marianna, FL otherwise known as the Dozier School for Boys. After 111 years, the state of Florida closed the reform school in 2011 reportedly for fiscal reasons. Boys who were confined at Dozier, now men, began speaking out about the abuse they endured there. After its closing, a forensic team from the University of South Florida found 51 unmarked graves within a cemetery on the 1400 acre property. The team has been working on identifying the remains they exhumed and last identified two of the bodies in January of 2016.
James "Harley" DeNyke was at Dozier for 15 months between 1964 and 1966 for being incorrigible and running away from home, skipping school and "running with the boys." He was 15 years old when he entered and was fortunate to only visit the White House once. "Everyone of us that are here today went down to that little building and got our butts whipped. You had to go to that building to become a White House boy. I'm here to tell ya… you have an opportunity to make some changes in your life… to grow and become somebody," said DeNyke. With only a seventh grade education, DeNyke regrets the actions that landed him at Dozier. After he got out of Dozier, at the age of 17, he hadn't learned his lesson. He stole the car of a man he had befriended which put him in the state prison system. He bounced in and out of the prison system and tells of how he became an alcoholic to try to drink his problems away. But that didn't work. At 27 he reached a breaking point and decided to take action and sobered up. "I've been sober 38 and a half years," said DeNyke. "Everybody has an opportunity to make that choice. Nothing is handed to you in life. Since I've been sober, I worked real hard and got a full pardon in the state of Florida."
"I run around the country in an RV- fulltime RVer… We go all over the country. Don't have to worry about looking over my shoulder - seeing if the guys in the blue are looking at me. You guys have a great opportunity here. A second chance in life, if you want it bad enough. If you want what I got, you can do it," he said.
Bill Price described how they were sent to Marianna for minor offenses like skipping school and smoking. "When we got there, we were sexually, physically, and psychologically abused. I was personally there for 2 and a half years. Second chances don't come when you get sent there for running away from home." Price explained that he ran from abuse at home only to endure abuse at Marianna. "This program [referring to Eckerd], from what I've seen is giving you a chance," said Price.
"The next step is prison. That is not going to be fun. Take the chance that you have now and turn your life around… The biggest threat that you have when you leave here is peer pressure." Price encouraged the boys to resist that and tell themselves, "I want my life to change, I want my life to be different."
Price graduated from high school, went to college and started his own business. "If you want to do it, it is possible," he stated.
"Think about these guys here, what they had to go through, including myself and turn your life around," Price said.
Charles Fudge is one of ten children whose mother and father divorced when he was 10 years old. He and three of his brothers were sent to the Dozier School for Boys in Marianna. "We never expected to get beaten or treated the way we were there, but when you think of what prison is like, Marianna wasn't all that bad," Fudge said to the Eckerd youth.
"I've become a businessman as well," He went through 3 different marriages and attributes that to much of what happened to him at Florida School for Boys.
"Once you're a criminal and you go to prison, that stays with you your whole life. I cannot forget the number I was given at Marianna when I was sent there 58 years ago."
Adam Royster is currently at Eckerd for some poor choices he made. He is appreciative of the White House Boys sharing their experiences. "I think that they're very helpful and I appreciate them coming out. If anything they took time out of their day to come… share their experiences with us to try to make us feel like we should do better and appreciate the better things in life than just going back out on the streets and do what we were doing before."
"I just appreciate everything that they do," Royster said.
To find out more about the White House Boys, visit www.officialwhitehouseboys.org