Summary and book reviews of When Truth Is All You Have by Jim McCloskey

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
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  • Published:
    Jul 2020, 320 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs
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Book Summary

By the founder of the first organization in the United States committed to freeing the wrongly imprisoned, a riveting story of devotion, sacrifice, and vindication.

Jim McCloskey was at a midlife crossroads when he met the man who would transform his life. A former management consultant, McCloskey had grown disenchanted with the business world; he enrolled at Princeton Theological Seminary at the age of 37. His first assignment in 1980 was as a chaplain at Trenton State Prison, where he ministered to some of the most violent offenders in the state. Among them was Jorge de los Santos, a heroin addict who'd been convicted of murder years earlier. De los Santos swore to McCloskey that he was innocent--and, over time, McCloskey came to believe him. With no legal or investigative training to speak of, McCloskey threw himself into the man's case. Two years later, he successfully effected his exoneration. McCloskey had found his calling. He would go on to establish Centurion Ministries, the first group in America devoted to overturning wrongful convictions.

Together with a team of forensic experts, lawyers, and volunteers--through tireless investigation and an unflagging dedication to justice--Centurion has freed 63 prisoners and counting. When Truth Is All You Have is McCloskey's inspirational story as well as the stories of the unjustly imprisoned for whom he has advocated. Spanning the nation, it is a chronicle of faith and doubt; of triumphant success and shattering failure. It candidly exposes a life of searching and struggle, uplifted by McCloskey's certainty that he had found what he was put on earth to do. Filled with generosity, humor, and compassion, it is the account of a man who has redeemed innumerable lives--and incited a movement--with nothing more than his unshakeable belief in the truth.

One
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 ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

When Truth Is All You Have is an inspiring work; the author states that the book is his attempt to "ask you to join us – to walk beside us, when you can, in whatever way you can," and he will likely succeed in accomplishing this mission with many in his audience. It's also eminently readable, more of a page-turner than most memoirs, and its revealing account of our justice system's failings is both important and timely. I recommend it for a broad group of readers, and book groups in particular will find many excellent topics of discussion here...continued

Full Review Members Only (765 words).

(Reviewed by Kim Kovacs).

Media Reviews

Washington Post
When Truth Is All You Have, a memoir of McCloskey’s life and work, is a riveting and infuriating examination of criminal prosecutions, revealing how easy it is to convict the wrong person and how nearly impossible it is to undo the error. It upends our naive and complacent view of prosecutions — or at least White views, since minorities have long had no such illusions — and demonstrates, case by case, what “a cruel, mindless, mean machine the justice system can be.'

Publishers Weekly
McCloskey's engaging memoir depicts his transformation from a spiritually unfulfilled business consultant to a minister working to free wrongfully accused prisoners...[his] inspiring stories form a moving collective profile.

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
The author's writing is conversational, forthright, and brusque, and his subject matter is humane, uncomfortable, and often raw. The narrative charts triumphant stories of innocent persons freed, heartbreaking tales of defeat, and disappointing insights into a broken justice system...Compassionate tales from a dedicated warrior for justice.

Library Journal (starred review)
McCloskey and Lerman's natural storytelling style make this an enjoyable read even when addressing tough subjects. This will be essential for collections focused on social justice, the wrongly convicted, and spiritual transformation.

Author Blurb from the foreword by John Grisham
[Exoneration] takes an advocate who is tireless, fearless, and dedicated to justice. A man like Jim McCloskey, the dean of all innocence advocates—The Exonerator.

Author Blurb Sister Helen Prejean, CSJ, author of Dead Man Walking
Jim McCloskey is one of the foremost voices in the struggle to exonerate the wrongly convicted, and When Truth is All You Have is a poignant, piercing, and ultimately inspiring account of a life of sacrifice. Whether it's to the people he serves or to a more just criminal justice system, Jim McCloskey's devotion is a beacon of hope.

Author Blurb Bryan Stevenson, author of Just Mercy
Jim McCloskey and Centurion are pioneers in the struggle to expose the tragedy of innocent people wrongly convicted and sent to prison in America...No one has illuminated this problem more thoughtfully and persistently than Rev. McCloskey and his extraordinary team at Centurion. There are important stories we have yet to hear about what we've done in America and no one is better positioned to tell them than Jim McCloskey.

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Beyond the Book

Miles of Freedom

Miles of Freedom logoIn his memoir, When Truth Is All You Have, Jim McCloskey writes about several of the people his organization, Centurion, has helped free from prison after they were wrongfully convicted of serious crimes. Richard Miles, founder of the nonprofit Miles of Freedom, is one of those McCloskey helped to exonerate.

On May 16, 1994, Deandre Shay Williams and Robert Ray Johnson were shot while in their parked car at a gas station near Bachman, Texas. Richard Miles, six miles away from the site of the crime, was stopped by police as he walked home from the store and arrested because he fit the assailant's profile (i.e., he was a young, Black male). Based on false testimony, the 20-year-old was convicted of murder and attempted murder and sentenced...

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