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Crime and punishment: Volunteers work hard to set others free from muscular dystrophy
Lory Hatch is escorted from a squad car by City of Gainesville officer Kevin Holbrook as part of the Muscular Dystrophy Association fundraising lockup at the Georgia Mountains Center Tuesday. Participants in the event were “arrested” and had to raise “bail” money to donate to the Muscular Dystrophy Association. - photo by Tom Reed

Accompanied by law enforcement officers, a steady stream of "perpetrators" marched through the Georgia Mountains Center on Tuesday.

Their crime? Raising money for the Muscular Dystrophy Association.

It was the MDA’s annual Gainesville lockup, in which community leaders are hauled off to "jail" and must persuade friends to post "bail" for them.

Sabrina Hughes, MDA’s district director for North Georgia, said more than 180 "jailbirds" signed up this year. But their "incarceration" was made a little easier this time, because they were given the opportunity to start raising their money weeks in advance.

"We ask them to raise at least $800, which is enough to send one child to MDA’s summer camp in Rutledge," Hughes said.

Last year’s event raised more than $63,000, most of which was spent locally. In addition to Camp Twin Lakes, the funds benefit a wide range of other programs serving patients with 43 different neuromuscular diseases.

There is currently no cure for these illnesses. Many are progressive and ultimately fatal.

Until there is a cure, Hughes said, MDA’s goal is to help patients and their families obtain whatever they need in order to function.

"We don’t care whether the person has insurance, we’re going to help," she said. "Everyone is treated the same."

Hughes said MDA is serving more than 1,800 families in North and Central Georgia.

"We pay hospitals a grant so patients can see a doctor for free, and we provide transportation if they need it," she said. "We also provide up to $2,000 per family to purchase equipment such as wheelchairs."

Most people are familiar with MDA, thanks to the annual Labor Day telethon. That name recognition makes it easier to raise funds for other MDA events.

"When I called folks for donations, I never got a ‘no,’" said Herad Johan, owner of Sports & Imports Autos in Gainesville.

Johan was one of the "criminals" brought in to the lockup Tuesday. A patrol car came to his place of business and picked him up for transport.

"They said I had the choice of being handcuffed, but I didn’t want to go that far," he said.

Officers with the Gainesville Police Department, Oakwood Police Department and Hall County Sheriff’s Office all pitched in to collect the "suspects."

After being fingerprinted, each "perp" had to don a black-and-white striped jail suit and have their mug shot taken behind bars. And though most had raised their money in advance, some continued to make calls while they were in lockup.

Ash Patel, owner of Ash Limousine Service in Gainesville, came in with the goal of trying to beat the $3,500 he raised last year. He managed to get an additional $1,100 in pledges while in "jail," for a grand total of $4,103 this year.

He also donated the use of a huge stretch limousine, which carried folks who had been sprung from the slammer back to their offices in style.

"I just wanted to help people out," Patel said, explaining why he participates in the event.

Altruism also motivated Lory Hatch, who works for King Green lawn service in Gainesville.

"I haven’t done this (event) before," she said. "Somebody nominated me anonymously, and I thought, Why not? It’s for a good cause. I have a soft touch for kids."

At the time she arrived, Hatch had raised $800, and she planned to call several additional donors while she was in lockup.

Like many of the participants, Hatch said she had never been inside a police car before.

"It was a little disconcerting," she said. "I’m glad he didn’t handcuff me. I wouldn’t want it to be that realistic."

Connie Hampton and Peri O’Neil, who both work for the Avita Community Partners mental health service in Gainesville, came to the event as a pair. They even had their souvenir jail photo taken together.

"This was very nice," said Hampton. "Whoever put this together did an excellent job."

O’Neil said law enforcement got involved even during the process of fundraising.

"Probation officers checked up on us to see how we were doing," she said. "Everybody’s been great."