“It’s in the early stage of litigation and we’re not prepared to comment at this time. We don’t think Troy Tidwell has done anything wrong and the facts of the case will ultimately bear the proof,” Bondurant said Friday.
No legislation addressed the steadily increasing reports of prisoner beatings and other abuse in the convict camps. A convict named Hughes was severely beaten and then released from a camp at Holder. One week later he died. A coroner's jury found that the man had been ill with tuberculosis and could not work. Guards ordered Hughes to complete his assigned tasks or suffer discipline. The jury found that Hughes died of tuberculosis, but little doubt existed that the severe beatings hastened his death.
Another incident of brutality happened in a turpentine camp near Ocala. It garnered considerable notice, even in other states' press. Eleven young men visited Florida on a hunting trip. The Alachua County Sheriff arrested them as vagrants after they had been in the state about ten days, and the court sentenced them to serve thirty days on the county convict farm.
The men were eventually able to present their case to Judge Hooker in Alachua. They appeared before him "faint from hunger and with back bloody from repeated lashing." The Florida Times Union reported that the men received such barbarous treatment that some of them might die. "They were chained to negroes and ordered to do tasks which were impossible." The reporter revealed that stripped naked, the men were tied across logs, where a guard lashed them with raw hides until they bled. The end of the lash gashed their faces badly, and according to Judge Hooker, nearly tore Cumming's ear off.
Sixty-seven Jackson County residents donated $1,400 and 1200 acres of land near Marianna for the construction of the reform school. In 1899, two three-story brick dormitories were completed each designed to hold seventy-two children. One building housed white children and the other black children. The reform school opened on January 1, 1900, finally providing a separate place to incarcerate some of the children in the Florida prison system.
A 1903 report of a "Citizen's Committee" to the Florida Children's Commission however, charged that the Boy's reform school was "nothing more than a prison." This committee found forty- four children imprisoned at the reform school in Marianna, including thirty-seven black males, five white males and two females. Committee members reported they "found them in irons, just as common criminals, which in the judgment of your committee, is not the meaning of a 'State Reform School' as defined by the law creating said school."
In its first five years of operation, the BOY'S school provided neither vocational nor academic education. Children were "hired out" to work for people in the area FARMS, or they were compelled to cultivate the school's farm acreage and do maintenance work. The Marianna Times Courier explained that the Board of Managers of the school told their reporter "the Legislature has never provided money to pay a teacher."
The reformatory was meant to separate children convicted of a crime from the general prison population, but it is obvious in several Prison Reports that not all juvenile offenders were sent to the industrial school. A writer in the Tallahassee Weekly True Democrat reported that under a 1905 contract, the Board of Commissioners recently signed, "men, women and boys would be leased (WHO TOOK IN THE MONEY FROM THE LEASE ?).
Industrial School at Marianna had an average attendance of "approximately three hundred since it was established some twenty years ago, one-third of the boys were white and two-thirds were black." By 1920, the school operated two racially separate campuses. McRae expressed much concern with the quality of the executive supervision of the boys and girls schools. He asserted that the Governor and his cabinet, which also served as the Board of Commissioners, provide supervision. On June 30, 1930 the Boys Industrial School at Marianna reported a rapidly growing population and a high incidence of escapes.