"It's a really heartbreaking story and a lot of people are going to see a different side of Joe because of this," says Dillon Passage

By Christine Pelisek and Natalie Stone
April 13, 2020 10:41 PM
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Tiger King‘s Joseph Maldonado-Passage is ready to open up about his past.

Although the Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness star is presently serving 22 years behind bars, Maldonado-Passage — a.k.a. Joe Exotic — is preparing to tell all in a memoir about his life.

During a recent interview with PEOPLE, Joe Exotic’s husband Dillon Passage revealed that the former Oklahoma zookeeper wrote a book while in prison that details his “tragic” and “heartbreaking” childhood.

“He wrote a book while he was in jail and told his whole childhood, everything. You’re going to understand a lot more, which I can’t speak on because it’s not my story to tell. But the book will be published at some point and a lot of things will be made sense of,” Passage, 24, told PEOPLE.

While Passage said he’s “not going to give any spoilers” about details of the book, he did reveal that Joe Exotic, 57, endured “a lot of mental, physical abuse, sexual abuse. It was not good. I’ve read all of it. It’s very heartbreaking. And he did not have a very good childhood.”

“And he’s really been through a lot. I mean, I studied psychology in college — and it makes a lot of sense about who Joe is now and it really affected him and the way he thinks and the way he deals with things. So it’s a very tragic story. It’s super traumatic to Joe. And once it comes out then everybody will see a different side of Joe,” Passage said of his husband, whom he married on Dec. 11, 2017.

Dillon Passage and Joseph Maldonado-Passage
Joe Exotic/Instagram

Reading the book brought Passage to tears.

“It’s a really heartbreaking story and a lot of people are going to see a different side of Joe because of this,” he said. “I cried. I cried and cried and cried. It was so tragic because it’s nothing he ever spoke to me about in person. It’s very personal and it’s definitely a story that nobody thought would have happened. It’s absolutely tragic. And Joe really gets his story out there and lets people know what happened to him.”

According to Passage, Joe Exotic wanted to share his story “because he didn’t know if he was ever going to be out of jail.”

“I mean that sentence is 22 years, his whole life and reputation was absolutely destroyed. So he wanted to get his story out there and write and let people know exactly what’s happened in his childhood and the person he is and what’s affected his choices and decisions,” Passage explained.

Joseph Maldonado-Passage and Carole Baskin
Netflix

As to when Joe Exotic’s book will be released?

Passage said the book is currently in the hands of a “close friend,” but it “just needs to be published and typed out” as they continue “working on getting a publisher.”

“He wrote it all himself in his letters that he mailed out,” explained Passage. “And one person has every single copy right now.”

Joseph Maldonado-Passage
Netflix

As seen in Netflix’s Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness, Joe Exotic — a former country musician, Oklahoma zookeeper, gun enthusiast and big-cat keeper — owned an exotic animal park and boasted of having the largest number of big cats in America. He was found guilty in 2019 for paying Allen Glover $3,000 to kill Carole Baskin, a big cat conservationist whom he considered his rival and for killing tigers to make room for more big cats at his exotic animal park.

Though Passage previously told PEOPLE that his husband is “100 percent” enjoying the attention he’s received since the docuseries was released in March, Joe Exotic ultimately wants to share his side of the story.

“He just wants his story told if he can’t tell it himself,” said Passage. “It’s a story he wants told.”