TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Restitution before it’s too late, that’s what victims of an infamous Florida reform school told lawmakers they deserve at the capitol on Thursday.
The former students of the now-shuttered Dozier School for Boys called on the state to pay up after decades of sexual and physical abuse claims at the state-run facility.
Charles Fudge says abusive Dozier staff repeatedly beat him black and blue when he was a student in the 60s. The wounds have long since faded, but memories have not.
“I’m 72 years old,” said Fudge. “I’ve carried this burden my whole life.”
Fudge is part of a group known as the White House Boys. They’re survivors who have shared their stories and helped close the reform school in 2011.
The fight for financial relief has since become a main focus for the group. And, time is of the essence, said Fudge.
“We’re all getting older and dying off faster,” he said.
The men have been at it since at least 2016. However, time after time, their relief bills fail to get traction in the state legislature.
“Everybody has been quiet too long,” said another former student Jimmy Abigando. “The state has been sweeping it under the counter.”
Rep. Tracie Davis, D-Jacksonville, is handling the latest version of the relief bill, HB 431. It’s again stalled.
She believes, this year, it’s due to priorities like teacher pay taking precedence.
Davis vows to try again next year.
“We’re dealing with men that are 70, 80 plus years old,” said Davis. “We need to get this done now, rather than later.”
With session wrapping in the coming weeks, little hope remains for the White House Boys in 2020. They’ll likely have to play the waiting for at least another year.
They may be short on time, but not resolve.
“It would be helpful to have enough money to enjoy the last years of our life,” Fudge said.
The White House Boys did manage to get something from the government. In 2018, the legislature provided a ceremonial apology for the abuse they received.