Excerpt from When Truth Is All You Have by Jim McCloskey, Philip Lerman, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reviews |  Beyond the Book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

When Truth Is All You Have

A Memoir of Faith, Justice, and Freedom for the Wrongly Convicted

by Jim McCloskey, Philip Lerman

When Truth Is All You Have by Jim  McCloskey, Philip Lerman X
When Truth Is All You Have by Jim  McCloskey, Philip Lerman
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Jul 2020, 320 pages

    Jun 2021, 320 pages


  • Rate this book

Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs
Buy This Book

About this Book

Print Excerpt

New Jersey, 1979

I guess if you saw him on the street, you might think he had just stepped off the floor of a disco, with his dusky good looks and his trimmed mustache and the tight shirts that were the style back in those days, although it was unlikely you'd see him on the street, and he was beginning to wonder if he'd ever see the streets again. Ever.

Jorge de los Santos paced back and forth in his jail cell in what was then known as Rahway State Prison. Maybe four steps to cover the entire length of it; if he reached his arms out, he could almost touch the walls on both sides at once. A toilet sat in the middle of the back wall; his bed covered most of the left side of the cell. And as he paced, he asked himself a question, over and over, a question for which there was no answer.

Soy un hombre inocente. ¿Cómo pueden encarcelarme por el resto de mi vida?

I am an innocent man. How can they put me in jail for the rest of my life?

Rahway was the place for housing the most violent, dangerous men in the state. It was an imposing structure—a huge copper dome over a large open central area, with long hallways radiating out like spokes of a wheel from a central hub. Those hallways were lined with cells stacked four levels tall. It was a fortress that told the outside world these prisoners were under control. But inside the opposite was true: The halls were so long, and the far reaches were so separated from that central area, and the prison was so overcrowded and understaffed, that chaos bubbled under the surface of every long, tedious day. Prisoners fashioned weapons out of whatever they could, and if someone crossed them, they could kill him in an instant. You had to watch your step around the guards as well, because they wouldn't think twice about getting physical with the inmates if they got out of line, or even if they didn't.

Jorge kept his head down when he was out among the other prisoners. He had good street sense. He'd been a heroin addict; he knew how to protect himself, who to watch out for and who to avoid. He never met the most famous of the prison's inmates, Rubin "Hurricane" Carter, but he knew all about him, as did everyone else: By the time Jorge arrived at Rahway, the fight to free the innocent Carter had gone nationwide. Bob Dylan immortalized him in song and lots of celebrities rallied to the cause. It seemed like just a matter of time before justice was done and Carter would be freed.

Some people, thought Jorge, had all the luck.

Jorge tried to keep himself sane, but all around him there was pain and despair. So much so that every guard was required to carry a "cut-down knife"—a curved heavy blade that folded into a metal handle—to cut down the men who tried to commit suicide.

Jorge was determined not to be one of them. He had reason to live. And he had reason to keep hope alive, hope that one day he would walk out of this prison a free man. His reason was named Elena.

Elena was a stunner, all flowing black hair and jet-black eyes, full-blooded Cherokee and as devoted to Jorge as he was to her. She came to see him at least twice a week, every Wednesday night and Saturday, sometimes Sunday as well. At first he told her not to; he said she should forget about him. But she knew he didn't mean it, and of course he didn't: He lived for her, he stayed alive for her, he thought about her all day.

And on this evening, he thought about the one bit of luck that had shined down on him in this awful hellhole: Prison officials had agreed to allow him and Elena to get married, in the prison chapel. The big day was just two weeks away.

There were, now and then, diversions that helped pass the oppressively long days: a boxing match, a concert, a movie. And as often as he was allowed to, he would spend time out in the yard with other inmates he knew from the Newark streets. But when Jorge sat in his cell at night, he would find himself lost in his own silent thoughts: wondering if, as someone had done for Hurricane Carter, anyone would ever take up his cause and help him find his way to freedom.

Excerpted from When Truth Is All You Have by Jim McCloskey and Philip Lerman. Copyright © 2020 by Jim McCloskey. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $45 for 12 months or $15 for 3 months.
  • More about membership!

Beyond the Book:
  Miles of Freedom

Become a Member

Join BookBrowse today to start discovering exceptional books!

Find out more

Top Picks

  • Book Jacket: Salvage This World
    Salvage This World
    by Michael Farris Smith
    In the near-future universe of Michael Farris Smith's Salvage This World, life-threatening ...
  • Book Jacket: Where Coyotes Howl
    Where Coyotes Howl
    by Sandra Dallas
    Where Coyotes Howl may appear to be a classically conventional historical novel — a wide-eyed ...
  • Book Jacket: After the Miracle
    After the Miracle
    by Max Wallace
    Many people have heard one particular story about Helen Keller—how the saintly teacher, Annie ...
  • Book Jacket: The Lost Wife
    The Lost Wife
    by Susanna Moore
    The Lost Wife is a hard-hitting novella based in part on a white settler named Sarah Wakefield's ...

Book Club Discussion

Book Jacket
West with Giraffes
by Lynda Rutledge
A rousing novel inspired by the incredible true story of two giraffes who won the hearts of Depression-era America.

Members Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    Pieces of Blue
    by Holly Goldberg Sloan

    A hilarious and heartfelt novel for fans of Maria Semple and Emma Straub.

Win This Book
Win Girlfriend on Mars

30 Copies to Give Away!

A funny and poignant debut novel that skewers billionaire-funded space travel in a love story of interplanetary proportions.



Solve this clue:

S I F A R Day

and be entered to win..

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.