Moliere Dimanche Jr. spent eight-and-a-half years in Florida’s prison system, during which time he became a “writ writer,” an inmate advocate who prepared grievances to file for other prisoners. He witnessed institutional racism, abuse, even murder. He learned law, created a brilliant series of allegorical drawings, and wrote a book that’s just been published, It Takes a Criminal to Know One: How the Inspector General and I are the Same.
Folio Weekly: Your book,It Takes a Criminal to Know One, tells your story of becoming an advocate for abused inmates during your years in prison in different Florida locations. What would you like your book to accomplish?
Moliere Dimanche: I want to raise people’s awareness. What happens in Florida’s prisons is a lot worse than what most people know, and even what I write about in the book is a small instance of what happens.
You wrote and filed scores of inmate grievances on the part of fellow prisoners. You were gassed with MK9, a chemical nicknamed “black Jesus,” as retaliation. That experience led to Dimanche v. Brown, in which you successfully sued 16 prison officials in federal court. You write of prison officials with white supremacy tattoos, of officers who kept a jarful of gold teeth, of numerous “mysterious” deaths among Suwannee Correctional Institute inmates, in Jasper. All that’s just a small instance?
It’s astonishing what people do with authority and power when nobody’s looking. It’s a whole worldview, a whole mindset.
How did you learn to write so well?
You know, there’s some things you can say when you’re writing that you can’t say any other way. I’ve always understood that and used it. And I had a really good English class back at West Orange High School in Orlando. Ms. Callahan. I couldn’t wait to get to her class. She’d give us a certain amount of time to write a story with keywords from a play we were reading, like Julius Caesar.
How does your writing relate to your visual art?
I’ve been drawing since I was a toddler, far back as I can remember. I started writing to the artist Wendy Bayliss while I was in prison, and I’d already been writing so much. She encouraged my drawing and my writing, which took me four or five years. And the book contains the writing and the visual work, which is all metaphoric of my experience.