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Third and Watula

That I fear I will be jailed for the things I say here should be the first thing I say. I have been warned that people disappear for saying things like what follows. This is Marion County, Florida.

When I lived in West Palm Beach and New York I helped homeless people. I helped one get back on his feet and get a job and live a reasonable life and I was there for him every single day until we accomplished this goal. Then I ran a triathlon for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. Then I became an active member of the Business Development Board and devoted part of my life to advocating a tax incentive for philanthropic initiatives to bring redevelopment to Palm Beach County during the recession. Then I moved to New York City and immersed myself in Dharma Yoga and my Orthodox Jewish Congregation, where I led the Jewish Book Club, ran several MeetUp.com groups dedicated to yoga and spiritual reading and volunteered all of my time to the West Side Jewish Center and the Central Park Horse and Carriages.

Then I moved to Marion County, Florida, where my parents retired about seventeen years ago. It has become starkly, and ravingly, clear to me, it’s just impossible for outsiders to make a go of it in Marion County Florida. My intention was to donate a kidney to my elderly brother and to care for my 89, now 90, year old mother. I rented a house in town, in the Historic District in Ocala. I gave a homeless couple a roof over their heads during the rainy season when they showed up on my doorstep in the middle of the night with bronchitis. The owners of the house were crazy, sick crazy, with grief over the death of their son who had taken out two automobiles and eight people in a head-on while driving drunk, after a short life marked by inebriation, fighting and incarceration. They couldn’t bring themselves to remove the remnants of their life before tragedy, so a third of the property was used for their storage. They showed up at the house at odd times, unannounced, and insisted that I was killing their trees, running a business, subletting the premises, and anything else that was on their minds on any given day. They showed up four times in one week, with a videocam and the police saying they wanted to inspect the premises. Their friends showed up at odd times and removed things from the garage which was being used as a part of their unintended storage space, and called me on the phone to accuse me of random crimes against their sensibilities. The landlords showed up with their friends and trucks and trailers and removed things from their storage spaces in the front parlor and the garage, littering the property with their cast-offs and leaving my garbage overturned. One time they even emptied my garbage and recycling bins into their truck and took it with them.

The house got robbed. The homeless man told the landlords, who told the police, that I did it. I was arrested. I made the ten thousand dollar bond. On September 11th, I was evicted. Though the eviction papers were mailed to the wrong address I was forced to stand by, with the police, and watched my landlords and their friends remove everything I owned from the house, throw it out onto the street, invite passersby to help themselves, and when I tried to retrieve my belongings I got arrested again. My second arrest. The State revoked bond for the first arrest and I spent a month and a half in Marion County Jail. One night during my incarceration I was awakened in the middle of the night and taken to booking, fingerprinted and given another charge. For battery. On the homeless man.

On September 12th, my brother died.

I tried to counter the eviction case, which was mailed to the wrong address. It was overturned but I was already incarcerated. I was forced to attend a hearing in Judge’s chambers in handcuffs and shackles, in tent-like striped pajamas without underwear or a bra. At that hearing the Judge shortened the time for filing responsive pleadings from twenty days to ten days. I sought legal research in jail and was denied. I sought legal counsel but was unable to make a phone call. After a month and a half, my mother responded to my written requests to hire an attorney, who got me released from county jail so I could resume my job as primary care giver to Mom. When I got out of jail I filed an Emergency Motion to find out what the landlords did with my belongings and requested an injunction preventing the landlords from harassing my mother, which they had done in the past and have threatened to do in the future. I went to drop a copy with the opposing counsel and he grabbed my phone out of my hand, threw it into the parking lot, and then grabbed me and threw me into the parking lot, too. The police told me that if I tried to press charges I would be arrested and sent back to Marion County Jail. I received a mailing from the Judge with the front pages of my Motions angrily stamped “DENIED”.

I’ve tried to seek legal advice on this, which I now consider a civil rights issue. Everywhere I turn I run into a dead end. Lawyers scream at me as soon as I mention the house, “It’s a landlord/tenant issue”. This is the reaction I’ve gotten from Central Florida Legal Aid, even from a lawyer friend in New York, who considers himself a civil rights attorney and his main cause is the legalization of marijuana. He also told me to call the FBI.

Backing up, after my first arrest I requested a meeting with the Mayor of Ocala, who had once requested a meeting with me in my yoga studio on the town square. He turned the meeting over to a Sergeant with the police department who, unable to make eye contact, rolled his eyes at the ceiling, uttered noises of discontent, threw his hands in the air and told me to meet him at the police station for follow up. I waited at the station for a long time, and left. The Mayor of Ocala is quoted in the local paper as stating “We have actual criminals from New York coming here to do crimes”. He also claims to have wanted to hire the Giuliani firm to do an analysis of Ocala which would help the city with its crime problem. Located equally distant between St Petersburg and Orlando, Florida, rated by the National Coalition for the Homeless, the second and third “meanest” cities in the country, after Los Angeles, Ocala is sixth in the country for all crimes. Property crimes are such that one in every 58 people are expected to be robbed.

The Mayor is unable to hire a professional firm, or to offer any expenditures for infrastructure, because a couple of years ago a contractor hired to build a parking garage made off with millions of city dollars. While incarcerated I read in the paper that yet another developer had to pull out of the vacant lot which remains after the parking lot debacle; the Business Alliance voted the developer out because it didn’t deliver on time. The Business Alliance has set aside a fund to reverse “slum and blight” in a designated area which includes the address of the house where all this began – Third and Watula. At a recent meeting, The City Council granted one of the Alliance’s requests by voting unanimously to put $100,000 in a facade grant program to improve storefronts of buildings in the Community Redevelopment Area. Regarding all other proposals brought to the table, “They kind of said, ‘Let’s go into a holding pattern and decide a little bit later what we want to do.’ ”

Although the Mayor claims to be in alignment with former New York City Mayor Giuliani, the broken windows theory for which Giuliani is best known is actively in practice in the city of Ocala. The house that was robbed during my tenancy held its unintended storage facility on the ground floor, front parlor, with curtainless windows, flashings desiccated from the outside, visible from the street and sidewalk. The house stands just across the street from the Chamber of Commerce and is visible from the Mayor’s fourth story office window at City Hall.

This is the beginning of a blog or a book. Posting it first on facebook, its purpose was to elicit a response. Operating in a void, I need some feedback which may determine my course of action. I believe a pattern of conspicuously dangerous behavior has been established. I believe I am in the middle of it. I believe I am in danger.

Once I get the hang of WordPress, I will post videos demonstrating the behavior confronting me here in Marion County. Meanwhile, I’d like to hear from ya’ll, not in sympathy but with realistic advice that will help me make sense of this chaos.

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Happy blogging!