It’s impossible to read Coming Clean and not feel inspired by Chris Stone’s journey from career criminal and heroin addict to advocate for ex-prisoners and troubled youth. Having spent the first decades of his life in and out of Australian jails for assault and armed robbery, Stone turned his life around at age 35 in response to a heart-wrenching plea from his young daughter. Today, this father of three and grandfather of four is devoted to making amends to the people and community he abandoned or damaged.
Stone packs a lot of story into very few pages. His childhood, which he recounts in all of 14 pages, is frustratingly full of fascinating details that are brought up and dropped: a father brought from England to Australia as immigrant labor to build the city of Melbourne; a grandfather who fought at Gallipoli; a mother who joined the Land Army at age 16 to work the country’s farms while the men were off fighting. Later in life, he survives a prison riot, an almost-fatal stabbing, two suicide attempts, and a daring escape from jail.
While Stone’s experiences have the potential to make for a fascinating read and his hard-earned wisdom has immense instructional value, this detailed accounting of what-happened-when doesn’t quite add up to a compelling and emotionally affecting narrative. Except for a riveting anecdote about simultaneously confronting death and humiliation at the hands of his abusive grandfather (who forces Stone to watch him shoot a rabbit and dismisses him as a “wimp” when he refuses to pick up the decapitated body), this memoir reads as a factual confession. Ultimately, it may leave readers wanting more texture and perspective to make those facts come alive.