The State of Aloha

An informal survey of friends and family this season has produced a diverse group of favorite holiday movies. Some of us identify with “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” and “A Christmas Story,” which celebrate winter’s materialism. Others vigorously defend unorthodox films like “Die Hard” as a Christmas movie.

For me, I have two. “It’s a Wonderful Life,” the 1946 Frank Capra film that airs on Christmas Eve, is a must-see for me every year. We see George Bailey, his dreams of leaving his small town dashed and facing a personal and financial struggle, standing on a bridge above an icy river outside of Bedford Falls, N.Y., thinking the unthinkable.

From there we are immersed in the everyday life of a man from a different era. We start in 1919 and move all the way to the end of World War II — just before the United States enters a period of economic prosperity and world dominance. Life has its digs, but it is a life worth living. In the end, we see an entire town come together to help a man who gave everything for his community. Bailey’s redemption as everyone crowds into his drafty old house to sing “Auld Lang Sang” is timeless.

And of course my other go-to movie is “A Christmas Carol.” The 1951 version starring Alastair Sim is our family’s favorite because of its simplicity and because it’s the most faithful to the Charles Dickens’ novella. At one point before his famous transformation from a “squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner” to the gracious man who “knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge,” Ebenezer Scrooge questions if there is any hope for an old man like him. The answer is always yes, there is always hope.

And that’s what I think Christmas and New Year’s celebrations are all about. In the dead of winter with its short days and cold weather, we have hope. Look no further than the Nativity itself. If you think about it, a dirty manger is an awful place to go into labor and have a baby. Surrounded by animals in the middle of the night, the savior of mankind is born in a stable. It symbolizes hope arising from most dire circumstances.

It’s not just movies either. Another story has come my way. A friend of mine gave me a book recently. It’s a slim, self-published little volume about a person’s life. But not really. This is a work of fiction with a firm and solid basis in real-life events. Events that happen every day on Maui and across the rest of the country.

Kristina Jackson wrote a memoir, published it online, and you can find it on Amazon. It’s called “F.E.A.R. Forget Everything And Run? Or Face Everything And Recover.” It’s a wild read. I couldn’t put it down. Jackson moved out here years ago from the Mainland in a drunken whirlwind and didn’t stop until she went to prison.

Her story chronicles a woman living on Maui who’s totally out of control. And yet, she’s insightful, smart and, at times, very funny. We have all seen people like Jackson trying to get by on the island. She’s homeless at times, living on the beach in the rain. She’s hitchhiking back to the west side after being sentenced in Wailuku. She’s working a job in a restaurant, sneaking off with wine from the inventory.

The book describes Maui’s criminal justice system through the eyes of an articulate addict. Public defenders advise her minutes before her case is called. Prosecutors rage on in court and demand prison. Then when she’s shipped off to a Mainland prison where things start to get really difficult for her.

Now, I’ve been to jails and prisons as a lawyer visiting my clients for close to 10 years. My time at the Maui Community Correctional Center is extremely brief compared to the inmates who eat, sleep and live in custody.

But I know enough to realize that her descriptions of the dorms, the chow halls, the visiting rooms and the courthouse have an air of authenticity. You can tell she’s been there and done that. Jackson points out that the holidays are the worst time to be in jail. Folks are separated from their families and loved ones and fights break out over inane and petty things.

And like all of my favorite Christmas stories, her story is ultimately one of redemption and hope. She finds a way through it. She breaks the cycle of abusing drugs and alcohol. I recommend it to anyone who is going through a similar struggle or anyone who is in need of a good story for the holidays. Ultimately her tale — like Capra’s movie and Dickens’ novella — is one of hope. We can’t afford to lose that as we welcome the new year.

* Ben Lowenthal is a trial and appellate lawyer who grew up on Maui. His email is “The State of Aloha” alternates Fridays with Sarah Ruppenthal’s “Neighbors.”