Jacksonville man: Dozier school was 'horrific'

William Vina describes experiences from more than 30 years ago

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Days after Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Cabinet announced they would allow bodies to be exhumed at the Dozier School for Boys in Marianna, one Jacksonville man spoke about his experiences at the school in the 1980s and how happy he is that some families may soon have closure from this situation.

William Vina (pictured, below) describes his experience at the school in 1981 and 1982 as a total travesty. He says he can still remember hearing screams from other children as they were taken from their rooms, sometimes in the middle of the night, never to be seen again.

"It was just horrific," Vina said. "If you survived that, you did something. We were kids, not full-grown adults. Kids. And it was very painful."

Vina said the recent headlines involving the school have brought back some of the memories from more than 30 years ago. He said he was placed in the school by a judge when he was 15 years old. Now that the graves will be excavated, Vina said people will be shocked by what is discovered.

"In the '50s and '60s, I don't know how they survived," he said. "It was rough when I was there in '81. I can only imagine what it was then."

The Legislature voted unanimously to allow the gravesites to be dug up, but not everyone, especially those in Jackson County, where the school is located, feel like that is a good idea.

"We know that bad things happened there 100 years ago in all parts of this country," Jackson County Commissioner Jeremy Branch said. "We're not proud of it. We know some of it happened in our home, but we'd like for those things to remain a thing of the past. We're more interested in moving forward."

Vina disagrees. He feels the only way to move forward is for families to have closure.

"This was a lot closer than you think," he said. "Give those kids, parents and loved ones the opportunity to do that properly. To say goodbye properly. Not in an unmarked grave with a cross. That's barbaric."

Even with closure, Vina said the memories will always be there.

"A lot of painful memories, friends I will never see again," he said. "Ricky Scarborough, Vincent Denney. I will never see those guys. I don't know if they are even alive or if they are dead. I have no idea."

Vina said when he was at the school, while the kids thought they knew what was going on, it was a very hush-hush mentality. Nobody wanted to say anything for fear of potentially fatal discipline.