Florida School for Boys at Okeechobee and the infamous
"Adjustment Unit"...

This is a True Story of a young man's survival in one of the most “brutal” reformatories in this nations' history –
The Florida School for Boys at Okeechobee
by – Mike Anderson

Michael G. Anderson - then

Mr. Donald Johns was a short stout man with extraordinarily dark complexion and the lightest ice blue eyes I had ever seen, He had greasy black hair and was standing at the side of his dark green 1956 4-door Chevrolet Bel Air with the passenger door open, He said 'Ya'll git up on in heah, boy...You got a 'ONE' and you gotta go to the 'Adjustment Unit' to remedy that lack of respect you got for 'The Rules'. He was holding a cigarette butt between his fingers as proof, it was the same cigarette butt I had put under my mattress in Adams cottage intending to smoke it later with by buddy Westley Nelson. Someone “puked me out” (“snitched” in order to incur favor with the MAN and lessen their time at the Florida School for Boys) I surmised.

Mr. Johns hand-cuffed me and pushed me into the front seat and drove off the front lawn of Adams cottage towards the Adjustment Unit. I asked 'Where we goin sir'? 'You goin ta lock-up and then yur goin DOWN!' he quipped. I froze! I knew what that meant. Everybody knew what “going down” meant! Fear and anger gripped me simultaneously. '...fucking puke!' I muttered towards whoever snitched on me. Mr. Johns slammed on the brakes to a dead stop. I was catapulted straight into the dash board so hard that I saw stars. (Back then there were no such things as seat belts except for airplanes,) “What did you just say, BOY”? He screamed. With my hands cuffed behind my back, he commenced to beat the “baby Jesus” out of me.. I got an ass beating you wouldn’t believe. I had black eyes, a bloody nose, split lips and lumps all over my head. But that was nothing compared to what was to happen next.

I spent the next 30 days in lock-up. Twice a day I was fed the skimpiest meals I had ever eaten, a tiny slice of French bread and a tiny side of grits was served for breakfast and dinner consisted of infinitesimal portions of black eyed peas, grits and a thin slice of ham or liver. The meals were served through a small opening in the cell door. I lost 10 pounds in 4 weeks. I was 16 years old.

The cell dimensions were about 7 feet deep and maybe 6 feet wide with a fairly high ceiling. The bed consisted of a slab of concrete on which was a mattress of incredibly thin dimensions, perhaps it measured one and a half to two inches thick, maximum. There was one thin blanket of unknown composition, no pillow that I remember, and of course, a bible. There was also an industrial commode and matching sink which were a depressing gray color. The air conditioning was always turned up high and so I was always freezing. There were no windows whatsoever. There was a single solitary dim light that was turned on twenty four seven. There was no way to unscrew the light bulb as it had a thick glass cover secured by one way screws. A somnambulistic like consciousness became a natural state of mind. Both night and day disappeared into one long caliginous continuum.

Maybe a week or two later, I heard a familiar voice. It was Preston Cline, and he was about to go down! He was begging and pleading. 'No, no. Mr. Zych, I'll be good! I'll never do it again. Honest Mr. Zych, Please believe me Mr. Zych...'

I had known Preston from the *Detention Center in West Palm Beach, Florida. Preston was 16 years old and a pretty big kid, weighing maybe 180 pounds and 6 feet tall. And to hear him begging for his life seemed, well, uncharacteristic. Mr. Zych would have none of it

About 30 seconds later I heard what sounded like *gun-shot! KaaaPOWWW! Almost instantaneously I heard the most God-Awful blood curdling scream that I have ever heard in my entire life. It was a scream of total and absolute agony! I thought for sure that someone had gotten shot! About 3 or 4 seconds later I heard another KaaaPOWWW and the same God-Awful blood curdling scream. I began to tremble. I paced up and down my 6 by 7 foot cell in an effort to relieve the bleak feeling of impending doom...

The next thing I heard was a big commotion and a whole lot of yelling! Preston had gotten up off the bed and tried to run away. But they caught him in short order! Then I heard the Anti-Christ yell in a loud low voice, 'Now we gotta start all over, BOY!' The whole ordeal started all over again and I couldn't take hearing it anymore. I put my hands up to my ears and began muttering to myself “no, no, no...” like how those Buddhist monks do in Tibet, trying to drown out the screaming and yelling and crying and most of all the KaaaPOWWWs. The Adjustment Unit had maybe 8 cells, four on each side of the main corridor and the last cell had no door.. That last cell was where I was headed, the notorious “BED”.

Keys jangled and the door to my cell opened and I felt a loathing sensation. It was Mr. Johns. 'Come on boy and take that “jama” top off and leave it with your bedding' was all he said. In lock-up they give you state issue “pajamas” which are constructed of the most fragile and delicate cotton imaginable. It was “chiffon”, like wearing nothing..I followed him bare foot and topless with only the flimsy pajama bottoms on.

I followed Mr. Johns down the corridor and saw Mr. Zych standing in the door way of the room called the “bed” I was petrified! I heard Mr. Zych say, 'Come on BOY! Don't straggle!' He was talking to me. I hurried to catch up to Mr. Johns. I walked past Mr. Zych and into the room, and there I saw the “bed” and for the first time, the 'Anti-Christ', Mr. Emmett Davis!

He was a tall man who had thinning hair which was combed straight back. He wore a white long sleeved shirt rolled up to his elbows. His brown pants had double pleats in them and a gold key chain was clearly visible. The clothes made him have a look from the late 1940's. His face was etched in pure mean! I thought that Mr., Johns had blue eyes, but Mr. Davis had a piercing, hateful look that defied description! His eyes riveted on to me and bored right though me! He said nothing and just glared at me.

The next thing Mr. Zych said was 'Sit down, boy!'

I was scared shitless! Then the psychologist came in and he was smoking a pipe and I recognized the pipe tobacco, it was Bond Street. It was the same kind of tobacco that my Dad used to smoke. Suddenly I had a dash of hope! Maybe they were just going to talk to me. After all, I did really well on their aptitude tests because I was recommended for double school days and didn’t have to work at the dairy or the kitchen or the laundry and certainly not the swing blade crews. Maybe they recognized that I was an intelligent lad. I was 16 and right at grade level, whereas a lot of the other boys were below grade level, a lot never even having attended school. That must be why the psychologist was there. They were going to 'reason' with me. After all, I was intelligent. Or so I thought.

But, there was not going to be any reasoning or warnings or forgiveness!

Mr. Zych had only one leg, the other was a prostheses and he had a noticeable limp because of it. He limped around like a “pirate” evoking a feeling of foreboding in me and others and now I was face to face with him. I was surrounded by 4 grown men. Suddenly Mr. Zych slapped his prosthetic leg and his prosthetic foot landed right between my legs and missed my genitalia by inches, I was mortified!

He handed me the “Presley instrument” and said 'Do you know what that is, boy?' I marveled at how heavy it was. It was nearly 3 feet long. My stomach was so knotted up I thought I was going to vomit! 'No sir' I replied. 'That’s the REMEDY son; it’s going to help restore your respect for the Rules’. As I looked up at Mr. Zych, I noticed a very curious thing. The ceiling, which was painted white or some other light color, was covered with long black “skid-marks”. It was like somebody had ridden their “bicycle” on the ceiling and skid a whole bunch of times. There were so many black marks that they were uncountable...

Then he took the “Presley instrument” out of my hands and said 'Now roll over on your stomach and grab the bed rail with both your hands, turn your head to the right towards the wall, and don't you holler or cry or try and get up off that bed, because we will start all over again! Is that CLEAR boy?' 'Yes sir' I replied. I did exactly what I was told. There was not going to be any “negotiation”.

A few seconds passed, and then, “ KaaaPOWWW”!

The sound was like a shotgun going off! It was one of the loudest noises I have ever heard in my life! I, the mattress, and the bed springs were driven nearly to the floor by the pressure the “Presley instrument” exerted upon my buttocks! My anus, and surrounding tissue, must have been propelled all the way up into my prostate gland, for I experienced a momentary and instantaneous orgasm. It was extremely short lived, however, because what I felt next was absolutely indescribable!

It was like being struck by lightning which travels straight up from your buttocks and genitalia and up the base of your spine and spreads deep into your solar plexus and goes up and mushrooms in the middle of your skull. In short it feels like you're being beat out of your OWN body!

Now the bad news is, just when this horrific pain is being experienced and you are trying desperately to process the information, another even harder impact is again felt.

After the 4th lick, I got the message. I was not to break any of their “Rules” ever again. I made one of the most horrendous and egregious mistakes of my life. I turned my head around and told them “I understand Sir; I will never ever break the 'Rules' again”. As I looked over my shoulder and had uttered the last word of my sentence I beheld the most ghastly sight imaginable, Mr. Johns' face was twisted and contorted to such a degree that be barely looked human! His eyes were bulging and he was at the apex of his swing and it followed though hitting me on the side of my hip. The blow was crushing, I thought he had pulverized my hip bone.. Mr. Zych interrupted the beating saying “Didn't you hear a word that was said, BOY? Now we gotta start all over again!” I was doomed. Mr. Emmet Davis' gaze was withering! “Yes sir, I am sorry sir”! I whimpered. “He still doesn’t understand Mr. Zych!” exclaimed Mr. Johns. I realized I wasn't even allowed to apologize! At some point Mr. Zych took over. And things went from bad to worse.

Mr. Zych applied the “Presley instrument” in a much different manner than the other men,. He hit you once with his forehand and then quickly switched his wrist and delivered an almost immediate second “backhand” strike, the effect was to increase and add to the pain threshold of the original forehand strike. Mr. Zych almost caused me to lose consciousness. The pain was almost double that of Mr. Johns. The worse thing was, these double licks counted as just “one” lick!

The pain was excruciating!

At one point I was trembling so violently that one of the men said “ You bettah stop that shaken, BOY, or we gonna have to start ovah” I stopped immediately.

My buttocks were burning so intensely that it felt like someone had poured gasoline on them and set them ablaze.

Mr. Zych finally tired, for there was a short pause and I heard walking about as the men changed their positions. 'Maybe there gonna stop' I thought to myself still facing the wall.

The next thing I remember was hearing the sound of leather soled shoes sliding across the floor, keys “jangling”, and high above me, on the ceiling, a “Krraaacckkk”. And then a “KaaaPOWWW” more ferocious, more monstrous and infinitely more agonizing than any “lick” that either Mr. Zych or Mr. Johns could ever muster.

I had entered “Dante's Inferno”!

“He's gonna KILL me!” I thought,

“I'm gonna DIE!”

Each lick was categorically worse than the one preceding it.

The Anti-Christ/Mr., Davis was exclusively responsible for all those heavy black marks on the ceiling. He was an exceedingly tall man. The other men just couldn’t reach that high.

The beating that Mr. Davis administered was an order of magnitude greater than the beating that I experienced by the two other men.

I fully believe, with all my heart, Mr. Emmet Davis tried to murder me that day! After all was said and done I was reeling. I could not focus. My eyes and brain wouldn't coordinate. But somehow it was over and I was sobbing like a small child. I was submissive. I was utterly and totally “broken”. I had not the will to even exist. Everything they asked or said was answered by me in the meekest, most innocuous terms possible, “Yes Sir” was all I said.

I remember them telling me that I was to be led back to my cell by Mr. Johns. I was feeling very faint but I did not give into the feeling of passing out as I thought they would beat me again if I had done so. I staggered as I followed Mr. Johns back to my cell, and I vividly remember a strange feeling in my buttocks, it was as if there were two water balloons imbedded into my backside and the “jama” bottoms that I was wearing seemed to stick to them.

When Mr., Johns left I tried looking at my backside, I peeled the “jama” bottoms down and saw that my entire buttocks were black and felt hard, like leather. My buttocks were not black and blue or purple, they were black, black as the Ace of Spades. I cannot remember if there was blood. I just remember having a horrible back ache and trying to lie down on my back was impossible. I could not sit to eat. I had to stand up. I slept for many nights on my stomach and sleeping on my side was out of the question. I stayed in lock-up for two more weeks for a total of six weeks. I had lost more weight.

I believe that Mr., Zych wanted me to stay in lock-up for two extra weeks so I would “heal” and therefore not arouse suspicion in the other boys, otherwise they might tell their parents on visitation day, or worse, they might even take pictures.

All things precious, tender and lovely left my soul that day.

I tried to make sense out of what happened and what I had gone through. Would I ever laugh again? The way I looked at it, I was lucky to be alive. Only by grace was I allowed to live. After being released from lock-up I didn't talk to my friends too much, I didn’t know who puked me out to the MAN, but I knew one thing, I was never ever going to go “down” again, I began to suspect people. I didn't trust my friends like I did before. I became paranoid.

I think, for me anyway, there were two kinds of kids at “Chobee”, those who had been “down” and those that had not. Prior to going down, I was blithely unaware of just how bad “Chobee” could get. Now I knew.

I still had friends in “Chobee” that had not been “down” but, in all honesty, I felt apart from them. I had been exposed to the “dark side” of the FSB.

There were a few who knew this “open secret”. One night after “lights out”, I went to the commodes, and there I saw William Bodinghaus (aka Chip Tracy). He told me a story which reinforced my distrust and increasing nihilism. Chip told me that he had “run” and that they (Johns, Davis, Zych and others told him to stop or they would shoot, Chip didn't believe them. He found out the hard way. He showed me his bullet scars. Chip went “down” for this offense, and spent a long time in lock-up. I had to respect that. He also told me about this “other” kid who ran away, but he wasn't so lucky. He died under suspicious circumstances. (This unfortunate boy's story is told on the website TheWhiteHouseBoys.com.)

At the time I did not know about all the atrocities and deaths that happened at Chobee and Marianna aside from what Chip had told me, but I knew things were not as they appeared and I had developed an extreme distrust of the Administration after the beatings I was forced to endure.

Every day was the nadir of my existence but I was determined to make it out of there and to never return.

Month after month rolled by finally a year had gone by. I turned 17 and I was still in “Chobee”. I was starting to lose hope of ever getting out.

Then one day, 14 months after I had been committed, I was told to go to the office and a feeling of dread crept over me. “Now, what have I done? I’ve been squeaky clean for months!

Have I been framed? Was I being setup by‘puke’?” I fearfully wondered.

I was told that I was going home! Suddenly it was impossible to swallow and my breath was taken away. As I walked back to Adams cottage, alone, I thought I was going to explode with jubilation! It was going to be difficult to mask the euphoria and excitement that I felt!

I was released on a Thursday, and while driving off campus, I reached for a cigarette and “lit up” and blew a bunch of smoke out of the car window as we slowly drove past one of the swing blade crews. One of the guys, looked up, and began smiling broadly. I smiled back as we drove off campus, never to return again.

*Gun-shot. The loudest hand clap recorded is 113 decibels. I am sure that the beating that Preston Cline and myself endured was louder than a “hand clap”
Here is how loud 113 decibels is: CLICK

Power saw at 3' - 110dB
Sandblasting, Loud Rock Concert - 115dB