CHRISTMAS AT HARRINGTON’S by Melody Carlson. Revell (www.revellbooks.com), 2010, 165 pp., $15.99. ISBN 978-0-8007-1925-8.
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This is not my first Melody Carlson book. It won’t be my last, either.
Each year, my local library creates a special display of Christmas holiday books. It was there I came across a copy of CHRISTMAS JOYRIDE. It was a lovely story. This year, once again looking for my holiday book fix, I searched the library database and checked out CHRISTMAS AT HARRINGTON’S. Yes, another winner.
At first, it was a bit difficult to like Lena Markham, the central character. She had a real attitude and was not particularly trusting. Fast forward a few pages and we find out why. Lena is trying to restart her life, having spent time in prison, framed for a crime she never committed. I guess that would make you a bit grumpy, to say the least.
But the book is about hope and redemption, and the idea that what you give out is what you usually get back, in spades. Time and time again, she stumbles, things seem to be going her way and then she hits another blockade. But along the way, she discovers the good in people and some who are struggling just like she is. They lift each other up and are all the better for it.
I especially found this book compelling because I have spent time working in and with people who work for criminal justice reform. A decade or two ago, like many, I was of the mindset that, if you do the crime, you do the time. Maybe we’ll give you some bread and water, and good luck to you. To eliminate recidivism, we need to help people get a fresh start.
As a super-maximum-security prison warden once said, “There are some people who need to be in jail. They are just too dangerous.” But the other 90 percent just need some help: help to escape past issues of abuse, drugs, homelessness and their poor choices, lack of parenting, horrid home environments and mental health issues. That 90 percent are nonviolent and they are coming back to our communities. And we play a part in determining their success when they are released. Thankfully, there seems to be a new and improved mindset in this area. Warehousing people with no hope is a dead end-game.
The scenario Melody describes when Lena is released is all too true. In many ways, Lena seemed to have it a bit better than most as she gets a bit of assistance. For those who are released from jail, for them, mostly it’s: here’s the door, good luck. No money, no ID, no job prospects, no nothing. And we wonder why they end up back in prison. Reintegration is not easy. Lena was tough and lucky to get a little help from some newfound friends, but not everyone succeeds.
CHRISTMAS AT HARRINGTON’S is a classic tale of hope and giving someone a second chance, a hand up and maybe a little handout to get started. We could certainly use more of that today. CHRISTMAS AT HARRINGTON’S just makes you feel warm all over.
Melody Carlson writes inspiring books. I like to be inspired. That’s a match made in heaven.