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Man jailed for brown lawn gets help from neighbors

BAYONET POINT — Andy Law was eating breakfast with his girlfriend, Mary Dinan, at their Hudson home Saturday morning when she pushed the newspaper at him.

"Read this," she said.

It was a story in the St. Petersburg Times about a 66-year-old grandfather, Joseph Prudente, who was jailed without bail on Friday because his lawn was brown. For nearly a year, he ignored letters from his Beacon Woods homeowners' association and a court order because, he said, he barely had the money to pay his mortgage. He was trying to keep his house and didn't care about the lawn.

"This is not right," Law said. He was livid.

Law's own handyman business had slowed to nothing, and both he and Dinan lost money when they sold their houses to buy this, their dream home on 5 acres, which they likely will lose. Both are considering bankruptcy.

Law is a Marine and a problem solver. He is not used to feeling helpless.

But, he thought, he could fix this for Mr. Prudente.

"I'm going to do something," Law told his girlfriend.

"What can you do?" she said.

"I'm going to help," he said, and was out the door.

• • •

Pat Prudente was in her bedroom when she heard a knock at the door. "Go away," she thought.

She was in a black daze, thinking of her husband. They've been married for 23 years and met while both worked at a hospital in New York.

Pat is fiery and Joseph is calm. Even as he left for jail, clutching a grocery bag full of medicine, he tried to joke and make her feel better.

The two moved into their four-bedroom Beacon Woods home 10 years ago and they live off his pension.

The knock was insistent.

"Fine," Pat thought, and got up.

It was Law, who found their address in an old phone book. He told her they were going to get her husband home and started calling everyone he knew to come help.

He got a guy to let him borrow a machine to remove the old grass. Two companies donated sod. Soon, the yard was full of people. Pasco County Commissioner Jack Mariano also read the story, found the house, canceled a speech and went to work.

"I've never seen someone so important get dirty," said Jennifer Lehr, 32, who is Pat's daughter and calls Joseph her dad. Lehr, her husband and their two young daughters moved into the house two years ago after barely scraping by on their own.

Jennifer and Pat kept trying to feed the strangers working on their lawn, but they kept saying no, to not spend their money.

A man came to fix the sprinkler. People dropped off checks. A neighbor looked at all the work being done and cried because she felt her faith in humanity restored.

By 6 that evening, the yard was done. There were blocks of new grass, red mulch, flowers and a working sprinkler.

A few minutes after everyone left, there was a sudden, thick downpour. Jennifer stood in it, feeling the rain, arms wide. And when it stopped, there was a rainbow stretching over the house.

She looked up and thought, "Our luck is changing."

• • •

Joseph Prudente had a court hearing Sunday morning, arranged by Mariano, Pasco Sheriff Bob White and others. After hearing testimony from a Beacon Woods Civic Association representative that the work had been done, Circuit Judge W. Lowell Bray said Joseph Prudente could be released, though he still faces court and association fines.

When Pat Prudente drove up to the jail at noon, her husband was already out and waiting on a bench. She flew out of the car and kissed him. He said he had been treated fine. The guards were nice to him. And then he asked his wife if it was okay if they dropped off another inmate, a woman who also had just been released, at her home because she didn't have a ride. She said "of course."

The rest of the family waited at the house, along with Mariano and his wife and children, and Law and his girlfriend.

Joseph Prudente didn't know about the work that had been done at his home, about the strangers who came together to help him.

And when he pulled in the driveway and stepped out of his car, he cried.

"Welcome home," Law said, and shook his hand.

Erin Sullivan can be reached at esullivan@sptimes.com or (813) 909-4609.

>>fast facts

Help for communities

• District 5 Pasco County Commissioner Jack Mariano said the county will soon launch the Neighborhood Stabilization Program, which is federally funded and aimed to help local governments cope with the foreclosure crisis. The county will get nearly $20-million to buy and resell homes emptied by foreclosures and protect neighborhoods from blight.

• For information on this program, go to www.hud.gov/offices/cpd/community
development/programs/neighborhoodspg/

• To contact Mariano: jmariano@pascocountyfl.net or call (727) 847-8100 or (352) 521-4111.

Man jailed for brown lawn gets help from neighbors 10/12/08 [Last modified: Monday, October 20, 2008 2:29pm]

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