Most people will do anything to avoid jail time, but on Wednesday, 30 members of the local business community willingly were led away by arresting “officers” for an hour's stay in the clink, just to help kids with muscular dystrophy.
“The people of Jacksonville have always been supportive of MDA,” said Tiffany Bratcher, area director of the MDA Lock-up event. “We had 30 participants this year, about the same as last year.”
Sadler's was the site of this year's MDA “jail,” a restaurant that, ironically enough, is housed in the former city jail.
After being booked, processed and had his picture taken, bandana-bearing bandit Roy Johnson of CJ's Quick Stop fielded a phone call from a friend, reminding her of the fundraiser.
“I called twice – I have been locked up and I'm trying to raise bail money, can you help me out?” he asked. A moment later, he added, “you've already mailed it in? Well thank you very much, young lady!”
Johnson supports several different fundraisers, spurred by health struggles that different family members have faced.
“MDA has been around my whole life; I've got to help Jerry's Kids,” he said of his four-year commitment to the fundraiser. “I've been blessed with five healthy children, and I've never had to deal with anything as devastating as (this disease), so it's my way of giving back.”
Wendy Emprimo of KBJS Radio offered to be a jailbird this year, inspired by a friend in Dallas who works in MDA, “so I know what all is involved, and how they work. And, the money goes to a good cause, so I decided to do it.”
Her goal was to raise the full $1,600, but at lunchtime, had only reached about $275.
“I'm just asking (friends and family) to donate,” she laughed, saying she might consider bribing folks. “Local people, maybe I can take them some cookies or something later.”
Along with the phone calls, Emprimo said she's spent the past week encouraging people to go online and help raise “bail” money. “I've been doing it online, so people have donated at the website with their credit cards, though I've had friends also who have given me the cash,” she said.
Meanwhile, Kenny Hart, sales manager at the Bill McRae Ford dealership, is counting on a personal touch while raising his bail.
He's been involved with the fundraiser about 20 years, first involved with the Jaycees, whose “jail” was located in the dealership's showroom floor, long before he began working there. Now the dealership provides the vehicles used as paddy wagons in rounding up the “law-breakers.”
Tapping into the network he's created over the years, Hart said he prefers calling donors because it's “more on a personal basis … I tend to prefer to talk to people on the phone, rather than (reach them through) the internet. I think the personal touch, actually talking to someone one-to-one (is more effective).”
Firefighter James Suggs has served two years as an “arresting officer” for the lock-up, which he called a fun event that participants really get into.
The most comical reactions come “when people don't know that their co-workers have signed them up for this, and then I show up with a warrant for them, and they're unaware of it” or when a participant forgets the actual day of the event, he said.
“We get some pretty strange reactions when we walk in,” he laughed.