Reburying Our Children – Lessons from Dozier

Reburying Our Children – Lessons from Dozier

It’s one of dozens of bills Governor Rick Scott has signed, one that only affects a few dozen families. It also has very little impact on the overall budget; less than half a million dollars (that’s not real money, as the saying goes).
So sign it and move on. Other matters demand our attention.
But for me, the story of SB 708 and the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys is a parable. And like all parables, it doesn’t settle things for us as much as it challenges us to think more deeply.
SB 708 provides the families of the boys who died at Dozier, whose bodies have been exhumed for analysis and now must be given their final place of rest, up to $7,500 to cover burial costs.
Some of the bodies had lain in marked graves; others in unmarked holes in the woods. Some of the remains reveal the scourges of childhood maladies for which, at the time, there was no cure. Others reveal the extent of the cruelty of which human beings are capable.
By all accounts, the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys was not a good place for a boy to be. Whether or not one ever was dragged to the “White House,” whether or not one was ever beaten, or worse, in that torture chamber, the fear was enough to stunt one’s emotional growth, enough to take the lifetime of potentiality that dwelt in these boys’ spirits and crush it.
Reportedly, then-Governor Claude Kirk, said after visiting Dozier, “If one of your kids were kept in such circumstances, you’d be up there with rifles.”
And there’s the parable.
The Dozier School (and please, let’s not fool ourselves; there are other places we send children and youth, even today, that reek with the same, if less pungent, stench) was a place our society embraced because of how it viewed the boys who were sent there. They were “bad.” They were “trouble.” They were “incorrigible.” They needed to be punished, perhaps severely, to break them of bad habits and instill in them a fear that would keep them from threatening the peaceful lives of good citizens everywhere.
By this reading of the parable, the problem with Dozier wasn’t the idea of “reform” on the model of harsh punishment and depravation. It was that some bad people worked there.
Here’s an alternative reading of the parable.
Dozier and places like it were (are) possible because we view these “troubled” kids and youth as belonging to someone else. Governor Kirk himself seems to fall prey to that way of thinking; “If one of your kids” was meant to contrast with reality; these weren’t, of course, our kids. And so he didn’t grab a rifle. Nor did countless others, over decades, who heard rumors or saw with their own eyes. It was too bad, of course, and such abuses shouldn’t be allowed to continue. But there were more pressing matters affecting things that were ours . . . as these boys were not.
We still fall prey to this thinking.
We still view young men and women who do admittedly terrible things (as well as some of those who simply do wrong things) as needing to have the fear of . . . well, US, put into them. We want them overpowered, by law enforcement first, then by jails, prisons and the judicial system. When they come out, we want that fear to stay in them, so that when they face difficulties in completing their education, or getting a job or even exercising the civil rights to which all citizens would seem to be entitled, they will recognize those struggles and hardships as what they deserve by virtue of their sin.
Because, you see, they aren’t “our” children. They are someone else’s.
Yet somehow, the field of miniature graves changes our perspective. The accounts of torture and murder have a way of redefining the characters in the story. Those boys who were “trouble” have become victims. They are, to quote Macbeth about his recently deceased wife, “Good, being gone.”
What were once not our children become our children. Fear and judgment turn to sorrow. Perhaps . . . just perhaps . . . we pause for a moment and actually grieve.
I’d rather not grieve; I’ve done enough of it to wish to avoid it when possible.
I’d rather grab the weapons I believe in: organization, evidence, thoughtful if imperfect argumentation, my own imperfect self. Take them into court, maybe just the court of public opinion, and fight.
Fight for our children. All of them.
Not all of them can be saved; I’ve spent too much time in the real world to believe otherwise. But some of them can.
And none of them . . . not one . . . deserves to lie in a forgotten grave.
Or in a back alley.
Or in their parents’ garage.
If I’m going to have to grieve, I want to do it knowing I had grabbed the rifles available to me, that I had fought the best I knew how. Sometimes I’ll win. Sometimes I’ll lose. But at least I will have fought.
Join me?
Mentor a troubled kid. Become a foster parent. Volunteer time at a D or F school.
Be the “parent” for a neighbor kid whose own parents never figured out how to parent, never got out of their own adolescence . . . or their own nightmares.
Fight.
Because these are our kids.
And we don’t need checks from the state to bury them. We need to keep them alive.

Leave a Reply