Monday, September 16, 2013

The 411 on Bullying, Gangs, Drugs and Jail: The Formula for Staying in School and Out of Jail by Warden Howard Robertson

This slim volume may be worth taking extra steps to get into the hands of young men facing a hard road when early death or a lifetime of incarceration look like the inevitable possibilities.  Striking a wizened, knowing, tone, retired Warden Robertson has written the missing self-help book for developing readers who are urban tween and teen boys.  Like Williams’ Life in Prison, The 411 seeks to de-mystify and de-glamorize the end results of “selling drugs, banging, gambling and hustling”  and dropping out.  While phrases like “That’s a fact, Jack.” may not immediately endear young readers to the sometimes avuncular narrative, pictures of the inside of jails on Rikers’, along with images of the author and his family in front of fancy cars will draw curious readers to the author’s words.  The images are grainy, and the cover design and layout feel amateurish.  However, the production value lends this book a visible air of street cred.  Between the covers, Howard quickly establishes his own claims to insight and insider status:  20 years of service and leadership on Rikers, an older brother in and out of they system, and another older brother dead of a drug overdose at 16.  Counselors may find the frank discussion of goals, social groups and gangs a useful starting point for group conversations.  Students may just hang on to this book for independent reading. Reading specialists will want to keep several copies on hand.  —Jessica Fenster-Sparber
Robertson, Warden Howard.  The 411 on Bullying, Gangs, Drugs and Jail:  The Formula for Staying in School and Out of Jail.  Denver: Outskirts Press, 2013.  Print.

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