Public Enemy on the loose! After spending a weekend in jail -- without bail -- for the supposed crime of having a brown lawn, 66-year-old Joseph Prudente defiantly models the "Grandpa Gone Wild" novelty t-shirt his grandchildren bought in his honor.
Here's how "justice," as our rulers pretend to understand the concept, is administered under the system of depraved corporatism that's come to be known as the "Ownership Society":
Politically favored Wall Street swindlers guilty of deliberate fraud that destroyed imponderable amounts of wealth luxuriate in additional trillions extracted, through government-sanctioned theft, from the law-abiding; meanwhile, honest people who earnestly do their best to meet their financial obligations despite being battered by successive waves of misfortune find themselves threatened with the loss of everything they cherish, beginning with their individual freedom.
When Joseph Prudente's adult step-daughter, husband, and two children found themselves without a home, he did what any decent parent would do: He took them into his home, a single-story four-bedroom home in Bayonet Point, Florida (a town not far from Tampa). Prudente is a 66-year-old retired RN; he and his wife live off his pension and their respective Social Security checks.
With their family suddenly expanded by four people, including two young children, the Prudentes' household budget quickly proved to be inadequate.
Then their mortgage reset.
Joseph and his family found themselves overmatched by their circumstances. One result was the repossession of Joseph's car. They also found themselves behind on their newly augmented mortgage payments, which had increased by $600 a month. When the sprinkler system that irrigated their yard broke down, the Prudentes most likely ignored this development, thinking it was the least of their problems.
Thanks to the Beacon Woods Civic Association (BWCA), the busted sprinkler system proved to be the most acute of the many problems afflicting Joseph Prudente and his family.
The BWCA oversees the 2,600-home development, which operates under a restrictive covenant. One term of that agreement dictates that no homeowner will permit more than a tenth of his yard to become unsightly.
How Green Was My Fairway: The Beacon Woods golf course appears to be in violatation of the community's "10 percent" rule regarding brown grass.
As Prudente's lawn began to wither, the BWCA -- whose leadership is composed of the sort of people who would have struck the ancient Pharisees as excessively full of themselves -- sent Prudente several letters demanding that he re-sod the yard, at considerable expense.
Prudente, who would have been forgiven for telling the local Bluenose Bund to sod off, patiently explained that the expense of re-sodding the lawn was beyond his means at the moment. He could afford to perform cosmetic surgery on the yard, or try to catch up on his mortgage; he couldn't do both.
Joseph decided -- as any rational person would -- that it was more important to keep his house than to appease the BWCA. The Homeowners' group did what people of that ilk always do, when given the opportunity: They petitioned the State to punish someone whose problems could have been easily resolved through peaceful, private action. The BWCA filed a lawsuit against Joseph, who simply didn't have the ability to comply with the organization's demands.
"I explained the situation to them, but they said the rules are the rules," Prudente told the New York Post. "They showed me a rulebook that was thicker than the book War and Peace. They said, 'You signed an agreement to follow the rules - and the rules are the rules.' "
Let it be acknowledged that the BWCA acted within the terms of its agreement with Joseph, in exactly the same sense that Shylock acted within the terms of his contract with Antonio when the moneylender demanded that the Merchant of Venice be put to death for defaulting on his loan.
Shylock, of course, knew the lethal consequences of extracing a "pound of flesh," and he acted with malicious opportunism when Antonio -- through no fault of his own -- was unable to pay the debt on the appointed date. The BWCA likewise revealed itself to be utterly lacking in a certain quality of mercy as it pursued its case against Prudente, which resulted in a court order sending the embattled grandfather to jail, without bail – for the supposed crime of having a brown lawn.
Never expect common sense from someone whose first name is an initial: Florida Circuit Court Judge W. Lowell Bray, who sent a grandpa to jail without bail for having a brown lawn.
News of Prudente's sentence produced an entirely commendable wave of public revulsion, which was directed in roughly equal parts at the BWCA and its robe-wearing ally on the bench.
The furor prompted two members of the board to write letters to the local newspaper attesting to their own compassion, wisdom, and insight. The reaction of less self-enraptured people in the neighborhood was much more productive: Led by a former Marine named Andy Law, the neighborhood spontaneously rallied behind Joseph and his family. A crew of about twenty people pitched in to donate money and time to re-sod the lawn on their behalf.
"What are we coming to," a properly disgusted Law commented to the local media, "when we're putting our senior citizens in jail for having a brown lawn?"
"Everyone's having a hard time now," Law pointed out, alluding to the fact that the effects of the unfolding Depression can be felt in his neighborhood, where foreclosures and short sales are becoming common. "There's a lot worse things going on than brown lawns."
Indeed: One of those "worse things" is the species of Communitarian nosiness practiced by the BWCA and other quasi-governmental bodies of its kind, which are invariably populated by people much more comfortable with coercion than cooperation.
"We're not a pack of Nazis," snivelled BWCA President Bob Ryan. "We're simply fellow homeowners of Mr. Prudente, I felt sorry for him."
Apparently, Ryan's supposed sympathy didn't prompt him to ask if he could help the poor, overburdened grandfather, rather than suborning state-administered violence against him -- a "solution" that actually solved nothing.
Unfortunately, the times we inhabit are congenial to the cultivation of a Shylockian spirit, and the homeowners' association that afflicted Joseph Prudente is not the only one to play host to that demonic influence.
A very similar spectacle played out in Kennewick, Washington, a town separated by a continent from Tampa, Florida.
Last year, Burke Jensen and his family bought a very nice starter home on a 2.5-acre lot. The property is devoid of landscaping, and the restrictive covenant of the Oak Hill Country Estates Homeowners' Association requires that new homeowners complete the necessary improvements within a year of taking occupancy.
Several months ago, Jensen hired a landscaper -- at a cost of several thousand dollars -- to seed, irrigate, and otherwise develop the lawn. Unfortunately, neither Jensen, nor his wife, was able to supervise the work in person: Five months ago, Jensen, a Lieutenant in an Army Reserve military police unit, was called up for active duty in Kuwait, and his wife -- who just gave birth to the couple's second child -- decided to return to the East Coast to live with family during her husband's absence.
This extraordinary conjunction of unfortunate events brought out something substantially less than the best in Chick Edwards, the owner and developer of the subdivision and sole member of the local HOA.
"I really don't give a [sibilant expletive] where he is or what his problem is," Edwards informed the Seattle Times. "It really doesn't matter to me. [He] doesn't have the right to walk away from his obligation.... This is a contract. I don't like the way his property looks. This clown gets to do what he wants, and I'm mad as hell." Edwards, eager to get his Shylock freak on, threatened to sue Jensen, who currently resides in a location not terribly accessible to process servers.
While Edwards simmered in his own bilious essence, Jensen's neighbors mobilized on his behalf -- and, once again, they didn't need the services of a government bureaucrat or a foundation-funded soi-disant "community organizer" to do so. Scores of people contributed time and money to finish the half-completed irrigation system and get the landscaping work finished. Owners of at least a dozen local businesses provided landscaping materials, work crews, and even catered meals. The work was completed in a week.
Unlike Prudente's predicament, Jensen's hardship case was an easy sell to a public that is constantly harangued about the need to "support our troops." But his family's need was legitimate, and the reaction of his neighbors entirely commendable -- and his comments toward
Mr. Edwards have been heroically conciliatory.
If only resolutely decent people of the sort who came to the aid of the Jensen family could have been mobilized to prevent the unnecessary war that has wrecked our economy.... Thanks to the Depression brought on by the criminal overclass, opportunities to render and receive help of this kind will be tragically abundant.
Peaceful, cooperative action of this sort -- free individuals voluntarily pooling their means and abilities to prevent or reverse an injustice -- will become increasingly important as Statists in every social station seek to exploit our unfolding economic catastrophe for their own benefit.
Using peaceful approaches to deprive the predatory state of its intended victims can be as satisfying to us as it is infuriating to our enemies.
Dum spiro, pugno!