Melvin Dill: I Was In Prison With MOVE 9, They Changed My Life

The interview with Melvin Dill who spent five years in prison with Phil and Ed from the MOVE 9.

Many people associate MOVE with violence. They have been portrayed in the media and by the police as a group of armed violent individuals who were basically anti-establishment. The notion of violence was further promoted by the media after the August 1978 standoff and violence that erupted leading to the death of officer James J. Ramp. The MOVE 9 were imprisoned as a result of this. They have since maintained their innocence, though they have been consistently denied parole.

Melvin Dill spent five years together with them at the SCI Camp Hills facility between 1981 and 1986. There, they formed a bond which has lived on till today. Melvin talks to us today to give us first-hand information of how Phil and Ed of the MOVE 9 changed his life and how the so-called ‘violent’ people treated the people around them while in jail.
Melvin, I met you on when I was checking out a petition for MOVE 9 and I found a short story that you posted in the comments where you mentioned that you were helped by some of them in prison while you were there from 1981 to 1986. Could you tell us a little bit about yourself and how come you found yourself in prison with them?
Melvin Dill
Well, it all started in February of 1981. I had a mental breakdown, I was suffering from military disability and I shot a man. And got forbid, he died from those shotgun wounds, and I had to serve a 5-year to 20-year sentence. They sent me to SCI Camp Hills, they put me in solitary confinement, and that’s where I met Phil and Ed. That’s where it first started, solitary confinement. As I was going through my depressive state, they were there all the time and when they gave us an hour to come out of our cages to walk in another outside cage, they would always talk to me, they would always encourage me to stay strong because at that time I wanted to commit suicide, I was really having problems, I was delusional, suffering from schizophrenic traits, PTSD, and I was just out of it, I wasn’t in reality, but I was able enough to determine that somebody like Phil and Ed cared about me. So when I did get released from solitary confinement, and they put me out in population, Phil and Ed came out of solitary confinement and they had us all on the same block, on J Block, in SCI Camp Hills. And they taught me the right foods to eat because they would ask for garlic, and that garlic helped me to cure some of the colds I was having – I was getting dead cold, and it cleaned out the toxins that were in my body. They would talk to me about John Africa and what he taught them about nature, and how anything that moves has light to it and that we shouldn’t kill things that had life. They also told me about the philosophy of John Africa, that Mother Earth was part of God and that the luminous stars and everything in it was all in order. The only thing that was out of order was man himself, the system that we live in was out of order. They would give me their philosophy, and that philosophy helped me to determine what kind of individual I was going to be. I had already been a bona fide Christian, and I was raised up in a Christian church, but that didn’t matter to them, they still let me keep my faith and they didn’t oppose me or ostracize me. They knew I had a mental problem, and they also knew that I was a human being and that I had life. And we grew a bond together, they’d always give me cigarettes when I needed them, knowing that the cigs were bad for my health. They told me what type of cigs to smoke if I had to smoke and that they wished that I would quit smoking. That’s how we came about. We just built a relationship ever since then. And ever since I’ve been out of prison, I’ve been helping Ramona Africa out a lot. I send her my donations, from my family members, I try to participate in all of her events, anything to try to support the MOVE 9. And when my buddy Phil Africa passed away, I was really heartbroken, because he was a very strong influence in my life and in my faith while I was in prison. They saved my life.
That’s a very touching story. Do you remember some of the things that you guys went through together, unforgettable events that remain with you from your time together in prison?
Melvin Dill
One was about deodorant. Now that sounds like a really small thing, I was using deodorant every time I bathed. And Phil and Ed said, “Don’t use that because those are toxins that you’re putting back into your body.” And they said if I was going to use any deodorant I should use a natural soap that will help my pores to breathe better, because when you put on deodorant, it covers up your pores, therefore you can’t release toxins that are in your body. So that meant a lot to me, and I became aware and more conscious of how my body works and what I needed to be happy and stay happy, because Phil and Ed, they were really about health. That was one of the main things that they taught throughout the prison, how we could stay strong and healthy and that meant a lot to me. Because if you’ve ever been to prison, you find out that it’s a very hazardous environment.
Do you remember how Phil and Ed felt about their charges and being in prison?
Melvin Dill
Well, Phil and Ed, they knew that the system was rotten. And they knew that justice would come one day, and that they would continue to stand up to this system. They wouldn’t cut their hair, because that was a part of their religion. And every time that the prison authorities would ask them to cut their hair and Ed and Phil said no, they would lock them up in solitary confinement. They stayed in confinement between 30-60 days at a time, all because they would not conform to the prison system. Now keep in mind, they were not disruptive of the prison system, they didn’t break any rules or regulations that the warden had to govern that prison, they just told them, “we’re not cutting our hair,” and they put them into solitary confinement. That broke my heart.
Were you acquainted with the MOVE ideology before you met them?
Melvin Dill
No, I didn’t know anything about them, although some of them had lived in my hometown of Johnston, Pennsylvania. I was not affiliated with them, I didn’t know anything about them. I did not meet the MOVE family members until I went to prison.
How has your friendship with Phil and Ed influenced your life outside prison?
Melvin Dill
Well, I’ve got to say, once you’ve been introduced to John Africa’s teachings, it really makes you think about how human beings have treated Mother Earth, the land that we live on, the environment, the air that we breathe, how we’ve got big manufacturing companies polluting the air and the toxin in the air getting into our bodies. It makes you aware of the system. I had always told Phil and Ed that I’m a former marine veteran, a disabled marine veteran, and I fought for this country, and of the best governments out of all the governments in the world, America is regarded as one of the best out of all the worst of them. And America does have some flaws, but America itself is ok. It’s just what happens is we have people in office abusing authority and running like termites. When they kill innocent babies like the MOVE family members, every police officer that I see is not a bad police officer. Phil and Ed let me keep my ideology. They made me stop thinking about suicide, about injuring myself. And thank God Almighty that I was able to stay strong.
So after meeting them, have you gotten yourself involved in any Black rights movements?
Melvin Dill
No, I haven’t. I am with the National Association for Black Veterans, I just joined them. I have a non-profit organization called the Veterans’ Legal Foundation that I currently conduct since November 2010, helping veterans to receive their benefits from the veterans’ administration. Also I’m in a movement called the Pennsylvania Veterans Justice Project and that’s made up of concerned citizens trying to get legislative reform for veterans that are incarcerated because a lot of African American veterans are being housed in prison, and a lot of them suffer from mental illness, something that I was suffering from. They need treatment better and more than they need punishment. I joined the NAACP, but they’re not doing much out here. There are also Black organizations that I’ve looked to join, but right now I’ve got my hands tied up with the veterans.
How have you been supporting the On A Move movement recently?
Melvin Dill
What I do is, I have a Facebook page and anytime Ramona sends me an event, I make sure that I post it on my Facebook page. I send Ramona a card and I put tokens of friendship in there for her. Sometimes I can send $30, sometimes I can send her $40 just so she can buy stamps and envelopes so they can mail their fliers letting people know about events and fundraisings that are coming up.
Why do you think that the fight to free the MOVE 9 has taken so long and they are still in jail? Does it mean that we haven’t given enough attention and support to them?
Melvin Dill
My own personal opinion is that some people that are in authority are very frightened of MOVE’s teachings. Now don’t get me wrong, MOVE is not violent people, they’re not violent at all. MOVE is saying, “Get away from this system that is killing everybody!” And MOVE says, “Look, everybody can be happy and content.” Well, the system and the way that it is set up now, they can’t prosper when everyone is happy and in peace. The majority of America was brought up on violence. That’s how they profit, from locking people up, they profit from people being killed, anything is a profit when it comes to disturbing this universe. The police officers, that’s how they keep their family members going, because they go out and lock people up, put them in police cars and take them to jail. And a cop will keep doing that until he dies. So criminals have to stay in the cities, crime has to stay where it’s at. MOVE is saying, “Let’s eliminate crime.” If you eliminate crime, you eliminate jobs. And if you eliminate jobs, it’s going to cause havoc.
How do you participate in matters concerning Black rights now? Do you support the Black Lives Matter movement?
Melvin Dill
It’s going to take the population of the world, not just Chicago, not just Philadelphia, not just New York, but the whole entire continent must come together in unity. We must put our priorities back in order again, the way our creator has ordered them from the beginning of creation. And this is what I learned from Ed and Phil. Things that are happening in this world, a majority of them are caused by man’s ignorance and disobedience, because he wants wealth, he wants greed.

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