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Local Dozier School survivor reacts to compensation fund

Mark Parker



University of South Florida researchers uncovered at least 55 unmarked graves at the former Dozier School for Boys. Those who survived will now split $20 million. Photo courtesy of USF Anthropology.

For the past eight years, St. Petersburg Sen. Darryl Rouson has sponsored a bill to compensate victims of sexual, physical and mental abuse at the state-run Dozier School for Boys.

Florida lawmakers approved a $20 million fund March 4 that will provide a modicum of justice for the hundreds of men who survived the now-defunct “reform school” outside of the small panhandle town of Marianna. The unanimous vote resolves a 16-year impasse.

Rouson has a personal connection to the infamous saga. He developed a relationship with a victim, James Golden, who is now a deacon at Mount Zion Progressive Missionary Baptist Church.

Rouson said Golden – held at Dozier in 1969 – often asked when the Legislature would finally address the state-sponsored horrors he endured at the facility. Golden, 69, compared his experience to slavery and wondered if lawmakers were “waiting for us to all die.”

“I really thank him for everything he’s (Rouson) done for us,” Golden added. “Not only for me but all the other guys that were there. We never thought that day would ever come.

“You see so much happen and learn to keep your mouth shut and hold it in.”

The Dozier School for Boys Memorial in Marianna, Florida. The facility closed in 2011. Screengrab, YouTube.

The Dozier School operated under several names for 111 years before closing in 2011. Reports of abuse emanated from the sprawling, 1,400-acre campus in northwest Florida since it opened in 1900.

In 2009,  journalists Ben Montgomery and Waveney Ann Moore published multiple articles for the Tampa Bay Times that shed light on the horrors at Dozier and the men who survived. The facility closed two years later.

“It was like hell to be in a place like that,” Golden said. “For someone to beat on you and spit on you and treat you any kind of way – like you’re an animal. You couldn’t tell anyone about it … they listened to every phone call you made, and if you knew what was good for you, you would say what they wanted you to say.”

Erin Kimmerle, an anthropologist with the University of South Florida, began leading a team of researchers to identify possible grave sites in 2012. They uncovered 55 makeshift burial sites.

Some of the thousands of boys sent to spend their childhoods at the school had committed real crimes, but many were in for truancy or to reform perceived bad behavior. Either way, the children came from poor, powerless and often Black families, and no one seemed to care much about why they were there or what happened to them after their arrival.

“They put more hatred and anger into the young men who were there,” Golden said. “Some decided to run … and some who ran had to pay consequences. They didn’t make it.”


The Legislature issued a formal apology to Dozier victims in 2017. Golden said Rouson, a “Godsend,” presented him with a certificate and plaque during a church service.

“It was time for the state to go beyond an apology and actually put their money where their mouth was,” Rouson said. “The sentiment has been reluctance because it may have opened a floodgate of claimants.

“But every year we didn’t do it, some would die. I think the leadership in the House and Senate were of the mind to bring closure for some of these men, who are in their 70s and 80s.”

For eight consecutive years, Sen. Darryl Rouson has sponsored a bill to compensate Dozier School victims. Photo by Mark Parker.

The recently passed legislation creates the Dozier School for Boys and Okeechobee School Victim Program. It compensates those still living who were held at the facilities between 1940 and 1975.

Lawmakers estimate that 300-400 people are eligible to receive compensation. That equates to payments between $50,000 and $60,000 for each victim.

Rouson expressed gratitude for House and Senate leadership coming together and supporting the legislation. He also stressed that “no amount of money, whether it’s $50,000 or $500,000, could ever adequately compensate” for the injuries, deaths and psychological trauma.

“It’s but a token of compensation for what they endured,” Rouson said.

The bill must still clear the governor’s veto pen. While many lawmakers expect him to sign it into law, Golden said he will “believe it when I see it.”

Surviving family members are not entitled to compensation, and victims must attest to being subjected to abuse. Many children once held at Dozier are still missing.

Golden said he kept his experience private and didn’t tell his wife for nearly 20 years. He keeps his certificate of recognition and related paperwork packed away in his attic. “I didn’t think I would ever hear anything else from it,” he added.

Golden stressed his appreciation for Rouson’s persistence in Tallahassee. “The Lord put him in our lives for a reason,” he said.

“He (Rouson) didn’t have anything to do with it but tried to get us what’s right,” Golden added. “But I’m glad he didn’t give up on us. That’s what really matters.”




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  1. Avatar

    Mike D.

    March 21, 2024at11:43 pm

    Why does the compensation stop at 1975.Someone explain that when the atrocities continued till it was closed.

  2. Avatar

    S. Rose Smith-Hayes

    March 17, 2024at8:11 pm

    At last!!!I thought they would All be forgotten. Thank you Senator Rouson for not forgetting them.

  3. Avatar

    Danny White

    March 13, 2024at11:49 am

    This entire saga has been an amoral stain on the State of Florida for decades. The Dozier School proved to be house of unspeakable horrors where legislators willfully ignored its cruel existence. Congratulations to Senator Rouson for this historic achievement.

  4. Avatar

    Diane stewart

    March 13, 2024at9:24 am

    How does a survivor apply?

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