A journalist collaborates with two former juvenile detention–center inmates to expose a scandal.
With the assistance of O’McCarthy and Straley, who served time more than 50 years ago, two-time Pulitzer finalist Fisher (After the Fire: A True Story of Friendship and Survival, 2008, etc.) investigates the Florida School for Boys. For decades, misbehaving boys, many of them preteens, were committed by judges or extra-legal authorities as punishment for offenses serious and frivolous alike. Built in the early 1900s, the school gained a reputation as a locale mostly unsupervised by legislators or child-welfare bureaucrats. During the ’50s and ’60s, when O’McCarthy and Straley were youthful residents, beatings with leather whips might have led to numerous deaths, and certainly led to physical and emotional scars. For more than half a century, neither O’McCarthy nor Straley confronted the impacts of the horrors on the remainder of their lives. They found each other by chance, then sought other survivors through Internet postings and other means. In 2006, Carol Marbin Miller, a reporter for the Miami Herald, agreed to investigate the long history of abuse after being contacted by Gus Barreiro, a former Florida state legislator serving as a child-welfare bureaucrat when first contacted by O’McCarthy. Barreiro is portrayed as relentlessly heroic after deciding to become involved. Fisher wisely makes Miller a key character in the book, building on the Herald exposé that ran in October 2008. Fisher’s account, grounded in lightly sourced narrative, reads seamlessly, but she is compelled to disclose that so far nobody accused of abuse has been charged with a crime.
A worthy exploration of a regrettably long-lasting true-crime nightmare.