Climbing the Ladder

In thinking about the dilemma over the preservation or destruction of the White House punishment room, I was reminded of a comment by Stephen Britt, retired Florida Highway Patrol State Trooper, during the Dozier Task Force Meeting. He said something to the effect that “Marianna needed to take a step up in the chain of evolution.” He went on to say “If that building is torn down then this will be forgotten.” A strong and angry statement, but it stuck in my mind.

Every day we are climbing that ladder with a better future in mind, but change is often created by sudden and unexpected events that result in mass protests, riots, confrontations, some peaceful and some violent. In the case of the Dozier expose the results were eight years of relentless press and loss of income for their city when the abusive history of Dozier was revealed and 22 unmarked bodies found in the woods.

Senator Arthenia Joyner: “We can't go back and change the sins of the past but we can set a reminder so that this never happens again.” The “reminder” that Senator Joyner spoke of is the WhiteHouse punishment building. To tear it down would be to erase history.

Author Maria Tumarkin: “In the world we inhabit, traumascapes are everywhere. Traumascapes are a distinctive category of place, transformed physically and psychically by suffering. “Traumascapes hold the key to our ability to endure and find meaning in modern day tragedies and the legacies they leave behind.”

Rep. Ed Narain, a Tampa Democrat and one of the bill's sponsors: “In the eyes of any human being with a heart and a soul, the unimaginable happened at Dozier."

We are at that same junction in time. Something terrible happened in Marianna, destroy the building and people will deny it was ever there. It will be said, “It was an unjust media frenzy.” Marianna should embrace the fact that it was done decades ago and that Marianna has changed and it will never happen again. By doing so they are climbing the ladder of change and enlightenment, putting aside this regretful episode, created by the few and suffered by the many.

At the 2008 Sealing of the White House Ceremony, out of nearly fifty attendees, five black girls, employees at Dozier, came up to me and said how sorry they were that I had been beaten. I was surprised by their collective grace, a simple and beautiful quality. They were innocent and kind, living in a different time from the Marianna of six decades ago.

The Florida Cabinet did what no other administration had the guts to do. Eight+ years in the press and read by 1.18 billion people, this conclusion should be lifted up as high as our hopes for the most helpless of victims to come; our wayward children. No boy or girl is beyond hope. The lesson to be learned is that harsh treatment will not reform, beatings only culminate in instilling anger and rage. A few words of encouragement, small acts of kindness instead of indifference, a pat on the back instead of a slap, can accomplish wonders. There is power in this story, and a lesson to be learned.

The building could be moved or given one acre on Dozier land where it sits, cut off from sight by planting foliage. The land should be returned to the citizenry, the young people deserve a second chance as they are innocent. A story this big needs a grand ending. To let this story close by destroying the WhiteHouse would be an act of weakness instead of a strong and enduring statement that would bring change to Florida's negative image of sweeping things under the rug. The Florida Cabinet stopped that condemnation once and for all and millions want to see the ending. So let us set an example to the rest of the United States and those in other countries, leave this reminder so others may learn to do the same.

It’s our obligation to learn our history and live the lessons of our past so that we can take steps toward a better future.... Jack Levine, 4Generations Institute and witness to abuse at Dozier

R. Straley