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An Advocate For The Wrongly Convicted Reflects On Faith, Justice And Innocence

"I saw firsthand how police and prosecutors manipulate evidence, coerce witnesses into giving false testimony," says Jim McCloskey of Centurion Ministries. His memoir is When Truth is All You Have.

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Other segments from the episode on July 21, 2020

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, July 21, 2020: Interview with Jim McCloskey; Review of CD 'Women in Music, Part 3.'

Transcript

TERRY GROSS, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. My guest Jim McCloskey is part detective, part man of God. While studying at Princeton Theological Seminary planning to become an ordained minister, he did fieldwork at a prison. There, he met a man serving a life sentence for murder, a man who convinced McCloskey he was innocent. McCloskey took a leave from Princeton to work on this case and somehow succeeded although he had no legal background. It led McCloskey to found one of the first innocence projects, Centurion Ministries, dedicated to reopening the cases of men and women unjustly convicted of murder.

John Grisham calls McCloskey the dean of all innocence advocates, the exonerator. In McCloskey's new memoir, "When Truth Is All You Have," he writes about his life, the cases he's taken on and how his faith in God was sometimes challenged and how his faith in the justice system was shaken by police who lied on the witness stand, prosecutors who knew and judges who turned a blind eye to the whole thing. Jim McCloskey is now retired but still serving on the board of Centurion Ministries and still working on cases. He's a lay minister.

Jim McCloskey, welcome back to FRESH AIR. It is such a great pleasure to talk with you again, and I love your new memoir.

JIM MCCLOSKEY: Well, thank you, Terry. It's great to be here. I'm happy to have returned.

GROSS: So you were very religious as a child. And then you headed in the opposite direction. You became kind of wild. You served in the military. You had a good-paying job as a - at a consulting company. So you went through these different phases of your life, but then you decided to go to Princeton Theological Seminary in - around 1980. Why did you make that shift in your life?

MCCLOSKEY: Well, you know, I was 37 years old, and I had been in Japan in business for a number of years. And when I came back to the United States and began working for a Philadelphia consulting company by the name of Hay Associates (ph), and things were going well there. But throughout the 1970s, when I was in my 30s, I became disillusioned with the business world and my place in it. I didn't find the work to be fulfilling. I didn't feel as if I was leading a real authentic life. I wasn't serving anyone other than the corporation and myself.

And I went back to church for the first time in 14, 15 years. And I went to Paoli Presbyterian Church, and I really was impressed with our minister, Dick Streeter. It was a large suburban congregation. He was really touching the hearts and the souls of his congregants. And I looked at myself, and I wasn't touching the heart and soul of anybody really.

And I also, at the same time, became very serious and took a deep dive into the scriptures. The next thing I knew, I was feeling a call to leave the business world and go into the ministry so that I, too, could serve the interests of others in a real, significant fashion and maybe help change lives like Dick Streeter was changing my life. So I decided to go to seminary - give up the business world and go to seminary and become an ordained Presbyterian church pastor.

GROSS: That's not exactly what happened, though, because (laughter) you took a detour. For your fieldwork, you asked to be placed at a prison. You became a prison chaplain. And there, you met the first person who led you to do innocence work. And he told you he had done bad things but that he hadn't committed murder. He was convicted when he was 28 and was serving a life sentence. Why did you believe him? - because a lot of people say everyone in prison will tell you that they're innocent.

MCCLOSKEY: Well, I'd like to put that canard to rest. That's not true - in my experience anyhow. When I was a student chaplain at Trenton State Prison and met Jorge De Los Santos for the first time, there were 40 inmates and each of them in their respective cells. So I was ministering, if you will, to 40 different inmates. And only two were claiming to be innocent. To my surprise, a number of them were telling me what they did. So most people, in my experience, don't say they're innocent, although somehow that has come to be believed by most almost everybody.

But anyway, Jorge, we called - his nickname was Chiefie - C-H-I-E-F-I-E. And as soon as I met Mr. De Los Santos as a student chaplain standing before his cell, he claimed to be an innocent man of murder. And I didn't believe that. I thought, come on - that doesn't happen in America. We have the best criminal justice system there can be. And if there are any innocent people in prison, it's certainly an aberration and an isolated case. But there he was. Every time I would come by his cell and we would chat, all he would talk about what was his innocence and he didn't do it. And over the course of several months, I came to be provoked by his cries of innocence, thinking to myself, could this really be? Is he what he says he is, an innocent man? And then it started from there.

GROSS: And he told you that he believed in God but if God was going to help free him, it would have to be through you. And you seemed to take that very seriously.

MCCLOSKEY: Well, here's what happened. You know, I started the student chaplaincy work in September of 1980. And by Thanksgiving of that year, I was provoked by his cries of innocence, so I got hold of his trial transcripts - a lot of documents about the case, some 2,000 pages - and that's what I did over the Thanksgiving holidays. I read all the transcripts. So now I had the state's case and I had his viewpoint of his conviction, how wrong it was. So I asked him a ton of questions. And over time, you know, I have to say that I was provoked. He was convicted based on what was a - obviously, even in my lay experience, an unreliable eyewitness account plus a jailhouse confession, where a career criminal had told Mr. De Los Santos' jury that the defendant confessed to him while they were in the county jail.

Finally, when I came back from Thanksgiving and he said, did you read the transcripts? - and I said yes, they did - and he said, is there anything that I've told you that's not true? - I said, no. He said, you've asked me a million questions over the last several months about my case. Now I want to ask you a question. And I said, oh boy, here - I wonder what this is going to be. So he said, do you believe I'm innocent? And I said, yes, I do believe you're innocent. He said, well, what are you going to do about it? I said, what do I mean, what am I going to do about it? I don't know any - I don't - I don't know. I mean, there's nothing. What can I do, Chiefie? I've never had any experience of - in the criminal justice system at all. I'm just a seminary student down the road here.

He said, well, I've been praying for six years for God to send somebody to free me. You don't - you might not realize it, but you're that man. You're my angel to free me out from under this false conviction. I need you, and has chosen you. This is - he's talking, not me. God has chosen you to be that man. Then he really charged me. He said, what are you going to do? Are you going to go back to your nice, safe, secure little seminary and just pray for me? I said, well, that's what I was thinking about doing.

(LAUGHTER)

MCCLOSKEY: He said, that's not going to work. If you are a real man of faith, you're going to come save me. And that's all there is to it. I have nobody else but you. Well, he got me to thinking. I went back to my safe little secure seminary and did pray and think about it. And then I decided that, you know, I think I have to do this. I have to take a year off from school and work to see what I can move the ball forward to try and free him.

GROSS: Yeah. And you succeeded, which is really remarkable. One of the turning points was that a key witness confessed to you that his testimony was a lie. Tell us why he confessed and what he confessed to.

MCCLOSKEY: Well, his name was Richard Delli Santi, which in Italian means of the saints. And coincidentally, Chiefie's last name was De Los Santos, which in Spanish means of the saints. And I will say this that neither of the two were saints. But Chiefie was, in my view, was not a killer. He was a heroin addict on the streets of Newark. But Richard Delli Santi had also - I learned later through my investigation that he was a longtime informant for the Essex County prosecutor's office up in Newark, N.J.

They would use him in a number of cases to come in and give some incriminating testimony, false testimony, about a defendant. One of those was his own first cousin, Danny Delli Santi. He testified against his own first cousin and falsely said that Danny confessed that murder to him. So I went to the Delli Santi family, told them who I was doing - what I was doing. And they were still in contact with Richard, who was Danny's first cousin. And long story short, they introduced me to Richard. They kept asking Richard to, please, talk to Mr. McCloskey. If he's successful for Mr. De Los Santos, he'll be - that will help Danny get freed.

So over - it took a year until finally, in February of '81 - or '82, I'm sorry, I got a telephone call out of the blue from Richard Delli Santi. And he said, I know who you are. I know what you're doing. If you want to talk to me, I'm ready to talk to you. And when I visited him for two straight days - hours per day - up at the Hudson County Jail in Jersey City, the reason he told me that he's finally coming forward and telling the truth after a number of false starts in the past, he said, I'm just tired of living a lie. I'm tired of being the pinch hitter for the Essex County prosecutor's office. They've been running my life for 10 years. And I'm tired of it. And now, all I want to do is tell the truth and get this off my conscience.

GROSS: Did the prosecutor know that he was giving false testimony?

MCCLOSKEY: There's no question that he did. At Mr. De Los Santos' trial, under direct examination by the trial prosecutor, the prosecutor asked Richard Delli Santi, have you ever informed in any other case? Are you an informant? And Richard said, no. I'm not an informant. This is the first time I've done this. All the while, the prosecutor knew that that was a lie because prior to the post-conviction evidentiary hearing years later, we got access to the prosecutor's files.

And there in the hand - the actual handwritten notes of the trial prosecutor - pretrial notes - was the statement, Richard Delli Santi, in habit of giving testimony. So we proved - and to the federal district judge's satisfaction, as well - in his opinion that freed and exonerated Mr. De Los Santos, Federal District Judge Frederick Lacey stated that the prosecutor knew that Delli Santi was an informant and had suborned perjury.

GROSS: What an introduction to the justice system you had - false testimony by somebody who is, like, a pro at it, and then a prosecutor who is in on it and who knew about it and a man serving a life sentence as a result of it. You must have just had this immediate cynicism after that experience.

MCCLOSKEY: Yes. I was starting to mature. I was starting to see the system with different eyes than when I first met Chiefie 2 1/2 years earlier. And I got a baptism of fire. I saw firsthand how police and prosecutors manipulate evidence, coerce witnesses into giving false testimony. You know, it was a stunner. And I started to really rethink my whole position on the integrity of police and prosecutors.

GROSS: Let's take a break here. And then we'll talk some more. If you're just joining us, my guest is Jim McCloskey. And his new memoir is called "When Truth Is All You Have: A Memoir Of Faith, Justice, Freedom, And The Wrongly Convicted." We'll be right back. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF LOOP 2.4.3'S "ZODIAC DUST")

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. If you're just joining us, my guest is Jim McCloskey, a lay minister and founder of Centurion Ministries, one of the first innocence projects dedicated to exonerating men and women unjustly convicted of murder who are serving life sentences or are on death row. He has a new memoir called "When Truth Is All You Have."

There must be such highs and lows in the work that you've done over the past 40 years. I mean, when you succeed in freeing a man or woman who is unjustly convicted, that must be such an exhilarating feeling. But on the other hand, even when you succeed in freeing somebody, it doesn't necessarily mean that they have a good life when they get out. It's so hard for many prisoners to make the transition back into life.

I mean, you're coming to the outside world with, like, no money. You don't know what's been going on in the world because you have been - you haven't been living in it. You've been living in a cell for so long. And the first case that you took, the case that inspired you to do this work for 40 years, George De Los Santos, you succeeded in getting him exonerated. But then he had a very hard time when he got out of prison. Tell us what happened.

MCCLOSKEY: Yeah. Well, what happened with Mr. De Los Santos, tragically, was that when we freed him in the summer of '83, within two years, he was back using drugs heavily, descended into his addiction again, which led him to commit crimes - robbing. He robbed some drug user, as he had done before I started - before I met him. And he ended up doing another eight or nine years in New Jersey state prisons as a result. And he was freed in the early - now, by that time, we had faded from each other. He was so ashamed of how he led his life subsequent to us exonerating him that he just - I lost complete contact with him. He didn't want to - he just felt so ashamed he didn't want to talk to me because he knew what had transpired in his life. Anyway, he was found in about 1992 or so in a vacant lot in Brooklyn, murdered, beat to death, the supposition being that a drug buy went bad. And there he was.

But let me say this about that if I may, Terry. I still thank God for bringing him into my life because were it not for that Newark-raised, public housing project, of Puerto Rican descent, who was a heroin addict - were it not for him, there would be no Centurion Ministries. Not only would there be no Centurion Ministries, but I would have been lost in the world because I - as I think back on it, I would not have been a good church pastor. That just wasn't in me, as it turns out. So he gave me new purpose, a new life. And I treasure that new life. And I thank God for George De Los Santos. So - and a point can be made that maybe the other 62 people that we freed might still be languishing in prison. And so I owe my life to that man. We gave him new life. And he chose to go at it in a different direction. And I don't hold that against him because he just couldn't beat the drugs.

GROSS: I think the fate of George De Los Santos made you realize that you had to keep in touch with people after they were freed, people who you had helped to free, and help them establish their life outside of prison. So that's a whole other aspect of the work that you've done. You even had one of the people who you helped exonerate live with you for a while.

MCCLOSKEY: Yes. You're absolutely right. Based on our experience at that time - my experience because I was alone at that time with Mr. De Los Santos and then when Kate joined me. We realized that we had another responsibility that we were originally unaware of, not only freeing these people, but working with them to help them regain their lives and reintegrate back into society after many, many years of wrongful incarceration. So that was - that has become a major part of our work over the years.

And that also - by the way, you think there's stress with trying to free innocent people from prison and get them out, there's a lot of stress attendant with these very personal situations of doing our best to work with those we freed to make sure that we do what we can to be their friends - not just their advocates, but their friends - and their support system - at least part of their support system - as they go about regaining their lives.

GROSS: You've been very successful with Centurion Ministries. Compare the number of people who you've helped exonerate to the number of people who you failed to exonerate.

MCCLOSKEY: Well, altogether, we've committed and have worked on behalf of 100 people across the United States, including two in Canada. Twenty-one of those 100 are still in progress. So that means we've concluded our work on behalf of 79 people. Of those 79, we have been able to free 63 of them. That's about 80%.

GROSS: Wow. That's amazing.

MCCLOSKEY: The other 16 or 17 people we were unsuccessful in freeing for a variety of reasons. Two died while they were in prison. Two were executed. Five we were just unsuccessful in developing new evidence or coming - or developing a new legal argument that had not been made before that we felt deserved judicial review. And finally, after we vetted cases very carefully and believed in their innocence and went to work for them, in seven different cases, we came to believe that our assessment of innocence was wrong. It was misplaced. And therefore, we dropped them. We're not interested in freeing anybody who we have any doubts about their innocence. And so that's our record to date.

GROSS: Well, let's take another break here. If you're just joining us, my guest is Jim McCloskey, a lay minister and the founder of Centurion Ministries, which works to retry and exonerate and free men and women unjustly convicted of crimes like murder. His new memoir is called "When Truth Is All You Have." We'll be right back. I'm Terry Gross. And this is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF BILL FRISELL'S "JUSTICE AND HONOR")

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. If you're just joining us, my guest is Jim McCloskey. He's a lay minister and founder of Centurion Ministries, one of the first innocence projects dedicated to exonerating men and women unjustly convicted of murder or rape who are serving life sentences or are on death row. His new memoir is called "When Truth Is All You Have."

The first time I spoke with you on FRESH AIR was in 1992. And you said something that has stuck with me all these years. You were talking about trying to maintain some balance between the urgency of your innocence work and your prayer life. And I want to play a short excerpt of that interview.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

GROSS: Has the work that you've done challenged or reinforced your faith?

MCCLOSKEY: Well, here's the ironic thing. I like to think that it is the work of Christ and God that I'm doing. But what I've noticed in the last several years is that even though I like to think I'm doing the work of God, my spiritual life is not as strong as I would like. In other words, I find I'm drifting away from - my prayer life is not good. I don't read scripture like I used to. I'll go over to the Princeton University chapel to sit and pray at lunch hour. And all the while, I'm thinking of this case, that case, here's what I have to do. I better get back to the office right now. So I don't like that, and it's one - it's something I have to work on, to rebuild my meditative life.

GROSS: I really understand what you're saying. You're just so obsessed with your work and with the mission of it.

MCCLOSKEY: That's right.

GROSS: So you're going to try to clear your mind a little bit and open your mind more towards spiritual thoughts. Is that what you're saying?

MCCLOSKEY: Yeah. So what I - I am not doing what I know I should do, and that is take the time and go back and reinvigorate my prayer life, my scriptural read. I get great sustenance when I read the scriptures and take quiet time and do that. And when I don't do that, I find myself drifting away from God. And it's not good. It's not healthy. So I have to get somehow off this fast track, this whirling train that I'm on. You know, I leave Los Angeles on Tuesday. And then a week later, I'm in Grundy, Va., working on a death row case I've been working on for four years. And the guy has an execution date of May 20.

GROSS: Wow.

MCCLOSKEY: We're up against the wall.

GROSS: Yeah, sure. So you're not going to feel very good about taking time off to pray.

MCCLOSKEY: Not really. Not really.

GROSS: So that was my guest Jim McCloskey recorded in 1992. Jim, that clip always resonated with me because so many people are so busy with their work there's no time for the thing that sustains them in life, whether that's family, friends, music, art, literature, nature, prayer, you know, whatever it is. And I thought you framed that so well. You framed that conflict so well.

Now, reading your book, knowing the outcome of that case and the twists and turns - because you talk about that case in your book - that clip is even more meaningful to me. And I want to talk about that aspect of it. The case you were working on where you felt so urgent about the deadline that was pretty immediate was the case of Roger Coleman, who was convicted of a gruesome rape-murder. You took on his case, but you got a little suspicious of him at some point because he refused to take a DNA test. And the reasons he gave you sounded kind of sketchy. What did he tell you about why he refused to take a DNA test?

MCCLOSKEY: Well, he told me that - well, Jim, I don't think that's a good idea because I've never told you this before, but I have had intercourse with one of the women who works here in the prison. And I'm afraid that they've taken my semen from her and somehow planted it in the victim of my case here. And I just found that to be outlandish. I didn't place any credibility in that. It then planted seeds in me about having reservations about his innocence. So I left the case for the next year. I said, Roger, I don't believe you. I don't like that reason. It doesn't make sense to me. I think you're just making it up. And I now have some questions about your innocence. I'm not saying I believe you're guilty, but I'm starting to have some questions, so I'm going to step away until you agree to allow DNA testing to go forward.

A year later, he did thanks to his new lawyer. Kitty Behan, who came into it, was a breath of fresh air. So the DNA testing was done. And I came back into the case for a lot of different reasons even though in those days, when the DNA was done in the early '90s - '91 or so - it still wasn't as definitive as it is now. It still left room for doubt. Roger was included in the people who had that DNA profile, but it was like, 10% of the American population had that profile.

GROSS: Yeah, it was inconclusive. The test was inconclusive.

MCCLOSKEY: It was inconclusive. It was - it didn't absolve him. It didn't exonerate him, but it was still inconclusive, yes.

GROSS: So you returned to the case. So remember in that clip, you felt this urgency that you had to keep working on this case because he was about to be executed. You were running out of time, and that's why you didn't have time to pray in the way that you wanted to, to meditate in the way that you wanted to. He was executed. Did you witness his execution?

MCCLOSKEY: I did not witness the actual execution. However, Kitty, his lawyer, and I were with him, sitting on the cement floor outside his death row cell about 10 yards away from the execution chamber. He was executed by electric chair. We shared his last meal that night, which was a cold deliver of pizza. And we were with Roger up until about an hour before he was executed. Then we were ushered off the death cellblock.

Fourteen years later, when DNA had really became absolutely conclusive and could identify biological evidence precisely, working with another lawyer, we convinced Governor Warner of Virginia to allow post-execution DNA to go forward. And we agreed on a Canadian lab to do the work. They did it, and they came back and were absolutely 100% certain there was a mixed sample, and one of those definitely belonged to Roger Coleman. And therefore, one could only conclude that he was her killer. But I've - I still have doubts about - still not certain. I'll be haunted until the day I die about whether Roger did it or not.

So people are going to say, well, wait a minute now. DNA proved that he did it. Well, I've traced Roger Coleman's movements that night from 10 o'clock to 11 o'clock. The time of death was 10:30 to 11:00. Time and distance - I've spoken with everybody he's spoken to during that one hour, what time he was there, what they talked about. And I don't know how he had the opportunity or even the motivation to do this. It just confounds me.

GROSS: You've had to live with so much uncertainty over the years.

MCCLOSKEY: Well, if you don't mind, Terry, I want to get back a little bit to my faith, if I can...

GROSS: Yes, please.

MCCLOSKEY: ...Because years later, years after Roger was executed, I had another crisis of faith working on behalf of Kerry Max Cook, a Texas death row inmate. Now, this is detailed in the book, but I was with Kerry through three retrials throughout the 1990s. The first retrial was a 6-to-6 hung jury. Second retrial, Kerry was re-convicted and sent back to death row. I investigated that case from top to bottom. I sat at the defense table during the trial helping the lawyer. There was no question in my mind that Kerry Max Cook had nothing to do with this. I saw the prosecutors and the police and their witnesses lie after lie after lie. And we had a terrible trial judge who prevented us from introducing exculpatory evidence. The deck was stacked against us, and Kerry goes back to death row. And we have to start all over again.

I came home from that trial, and I said to Kate, my long-term partner, I said, Kate - I questioned whether God even exists. Where is God in all of this? Does God really care what happens down here on Earth? Does he intervene? Does he try and secure justice for all kinds of different people who suffer so many different kinds of maladies and evil? And so I checked myself into a retreat center, a Catholic retreat center, for a week to re-examine my whole relationship and belief system in Christ and God the Father.

And I tried praying. That didn't work. I didn't feel speaking up to God was in any way connecting with him. So what I did, though, I went back into the scriptures. And I was reading the Sermon on the Mount, and I saw in Matthew where Jesus is telling his disciples - he says, it rains on the just and the unjust, and the sun shines on the good and the evil. So that's it. Is that the way it is, Lord? Is that it? Regardless of whether you're good or bad or just or unjust, sometimes the sun will shine. Other times, it will rain. It doesn't matter what you do or how you conduct yourself in life. And I said, OK. That's it. Now I understand the reality. That was my interpretation. And so I then went back to work with a different sense of where God is in all of this.

And today - what? - 28 years after that interview with you, my prayer life - by prayer, I mean speaking to God, praying to God - still is shallow and inconsistent. But the way I talk to God or have God talk to me is through scripture. And my scripture reading has become, since that day 28 years ago, much stronger, much more consistent and alive and is a real inspiration and source of strength for me.

Now, I still struggle with some of the essential beliefs of the Christian faith. Was Christ resurrected? That's the bedrock. That's the foundation of Christian faith. I believe he was resurrected, but I've struggled with that over the years.

GROSS: Let's take a break here, and then we'll talk some more. If you're just joining us, my guest is Jim McCloskey. And he's a lay minister who founded Centurion Ministries, which is an innocence project dedicated to reopening cases and trying to exonerate people who were unjustly convicted of murder or rape and are doing time on death row or serving life sentences. His new memoir is called "When Truth Is All You Have." We'll be right back. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. Let's get back to my interview with Jim McCloskey, a lay minister and founder of Centurion Ministries, one of the first innocence projects dedicated to exonerating men and women unjustly convicted of murder or rape who are serving life sentences or are on death row. He has a new memoir called "When Truth Is All You Have."

I want to talk with you a little bit more about your life. You've actually had an incredible life, and your book is just full of surprises. I mean, I first talked to you in 1992. We had lunch once together. I forget which decade it was. When my husband and I decided to get married, we actually asked you to marry us because you were a lay minister. And then you explained to us that as a lay minister, you didn't have the power (laughter)

MCCLOSKEY: Right.

GROSS: You didn't have the authority to do that, so we had to turn to someone else. But - so...

MCCLOSKEY: Sorry about that.

GROSS: Yes - no. We were disappointed. But, you know, your book has things I never would have imagined (laughter) about your life. I'll mention a couple of them. So when you were working in business in Japan - this was before you were doing innocence work; it was before you went to Princeton Theological Seminary - you were in a very deep relationship with a Japanese woman. And one day, she says to you, I'm going to America. She leaves. You don't hear from her. It turns out she's been married for years to a man in America. You had no idea. This was a really horrible thing to find out.

A little later, you returned to the states, and you start - and this really surprise - I was not expecting this. You always seem so straight-laced to me, so I guess I got that wrong. You had relationships with sex workers when you went back to New York. One of the relationships turned into a real relationship for a while. Why did you decide - who convinced you (laughter) that you should write about it?

MCCLOSKEY: Well, I just felt that I had to be honest about my life and who I was and what I was doing. It's all part of what led me to the seminary, to change my life, to just completely transform, hopefully, as well - best I could to transform myself. And when I gave this book to my minister here in Princeton, Dave Davis, and I said, Dave, when you read this book, you're going to see that I've let a number of skeletons outside my closet, but I want to tell you, there are still some skeletons left in the closet...

(LAUGHTER)

MCCLOSKEY: So, you know - and that's true. Now, I haven't bared it all. I've bared enough, as you can see. But no, you know, seriously, I just thought it was important to be honest about who I was. And, you know, I'm not proud of it, but that's what I did. All of us deserve some kind of redemption. And maybe by airing this out and being honest about it, this is my way of redemption as well.

GROSS: You know, I'm going to get back to that first case that you took, where you won - able to free him and have him exonerated. And when he left prison, you watched him reunite with his wife in the outside world, and it was very moving. And then you went home to the room that you rented in Princeton, turned on the TV and just felt kind of alone. And I'm wondering if you felt that way a lot during your life, that you have all these relationships with...

MCCLOSKEY: Yeah. No, there have been some...

GROSS: Yeah.

MCCLOSKEY: Yes, you're right. I mean, when I returned to my house to my - the room I was living in in the house that was owned and occupied by an octogenarian, a delightful woman, Mrs. Yateman (ph) in Princeton - yeah, I go back to my room. And after delivering Chiefy to his long-awaiting love of his life, Elena (ph), and there they were together - clearly, at that time, in love with each other. So I go back to my room. And there I am, a 41-year-old man with nobody like that, in a sense envying Chiefy for having a love in his life. I had nobody to share that great day and victory with.

However, you know, look - you can't have everything in life. And I have to tell you, Terry, if I were married, I don't think I could have done what I've done in terms of the founding and doing the work of Centurion Ministries. It would not be conducive to a good marriage life, OK? And so I am just thankful that I have stumbled upon this work and made it my life's work. And this is what has given me joy and love and satisfaction and a sense of fulfillment in life. To have stumbled into a calling that has lasted all these years is a real gift from God. You can't have everything in life. And I have what I consider to be the most important thing, and that's a mission to fulfill in this world.

GROSS: Jim, it's been so great to talk with you again. Congratulations on your memoir and all the work you've done in the last 40 years. It's really been a pleasure to talk with you again.

MCCLOSKEY: Well, thank you very much, Terry. It was - I really enjoyed, once again, talking with you. And you always ask great questions, and you get down deep, and I appreciate that very much. So thank you.

GROSS: Jim McCloskey is the founder of Centurion Ministries and author of the new memoir "When Truth Is All You Have." After we take a short break, rock critic Ken Tucker will review the new album by Haim, a group of three sisters. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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