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Starting Out: The Complete Reentry Book, by William Foster and Carl Horn, 446 pp, $22.95

by Matt Clarke

Ideally, our schools and parents teach us all of the things we need to know to function as healthy and productive adults. Obviously, this is not always the case. Schools may focus more on academics than practical knowledge for living; or they may be distracted from their educational mission by social, political or financial problems. Parents may not realize what exactly they need to pass on to their kids, may not know all of the information themselves or might be incapable of educating their children due to drug and/or alcohol addictions. Furthermore, the person needing the information may have skipped classes or dropped out of school and might be estranged from parents and possibly incarcerated from a young age. Prisoners incarcerated for a long time may have known how to deal with the responsibilities of being a free citizen before their incarceration, but might have forgotten some of them or had their coping skills rendered quaint by changes in the way society functions. All of those possibilities and more are what make Starting Out! The Complete Re-Entry Handbook a very useful resource for prisoners re-entering free world society.

The 446-page book addresses a huge number of issues and life decisions facing anyone being released from prison. The topics range from obtaining identification documents and finding housing through landing a job; restoring family relation-ships; finding a doctor; determining what health, life, homeowners or renters insurance you need; all the way to budgeting money; understanding payroll deductions; opening a checking or savings account and investing money. Included in the discussion of these topics are issues specifically addressing the needs of former prisoners such as “Should I reveal my criminal history to a prospective employer on a job application and, if so, how should I present it.”

The book goes beyond the rudimentary need to survive in the free world, seeking to instill a healthy lifestyle in the former prisoners. It does this by addressing topics such as proper nutrition and health, exercise, finding a mentor, shop-ping, proper use of credit, consumerism, home and workplace safety and environmental conservation.

The book’s stated objective is: “building life management skills alongside academic and occupational skills, then applying those skills to many practical issues, from educational choices to occupational possibilities, from health to nutrition to housing and volunteering.” To accomplish this goal, it “catalogued more than 80 different life decision areas into 20 topics, beginning with education and training, followed by such areas as employment, insurance, investing, taxes, housing, and emergency preparedness.” Most impressive is the book’s marshalling of additional resources for each topic discussed. At the end of each topic is a section called “Digging Deeper” which lists websites run by the government or other institutions containing extensive information and advice on the topic. For instance, on the topic of resume writing, the section refers the reader to a website run by Northeastern University, another by the College Board and a third by a CareerOneStop. Addition-ally, the book has a supporting website,, containing specific information for each of the states, including a list of employers willing to hire former prisoners. Each book contains a user code allowing free access to that resource. Starting Out is available from the PLN Book Store for $22.95.

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