Locked Up

Mike Bralkowski always got good grades in school, drives the speed limit, pays his taxes and obeys the law. All in all, an upstanding citizen.

But he was recently arrested.  In fact, Bralkowski, Director of U.S. Operations for Global Future Solutions, was one of 144 Winston-Salem executives “arrested” on Nov. 6. Their crime? Having a big heart. “Having a big heart?” Bralkowski said. “That’s a new one. Hopefully some other criminals figure that one out.”

The “arrests” were part of the MDA Lock-up, a national fundraiser for the Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA), where executives are nominated by co-workers or members of the community to be put behind bars “for good.” Executives then have to raise money for their “bail,” which goes toward financing research, equipment purchases and repairs, clinics, flu shots, a summer camp and support group sessions for local families that deal with one of 43 neuromuscular disorders.

Bralkowski had never been arrested before. But there’s a first time for everything. “I was honored they asked me to do this, but a bit nervous about the whole jail part,” Bralkowski said. “I kept thinking, hopefully this will be the first and last time I’m arrested.”

Volunteer law enforcement and firefighters arrested Bralkowski and the other executives at their offices Nov. 6, wielding a warrant and a pair of handcuffs. However, instead of being taken to an actual jail cell, the MDA jailbirds were taken somewhere a little more glamorous: the Piedmont Club in downtown Winston-Salem.

Upon arrival, the executives were fed bread and water and had their mug shots taken in striped jailbird suits behind bars. They then had an hour to call friends and families to raise their bail money. “It’s a great networking opportunity and a good way to bring awareness to muscular dystrophy in the community,” Brittne Stevens — Executive Director of the Greensboro MDA — said. “The money they raise can do a world of good for so many of our local families.”

Altogether the jailbirds raised over $123,000 at the event — an amount that could fund 28 hours of research or send 154 local kids to MDA’s summer camp. Allan Clayton, a North Wilkesboro resident with Duchenne muscular dystrophy, attended the MDA summer camp for 11 summers.  Muscular dystrophy, a group of genetic diseases characterized by progressive weakness and degeneration of the muscles that control movement, has been a challenge to live with, Clayton said.  But the MDA has helped him and his family out by purchasing wheelchairs and supporting him in everything he does.

Clayton, 20, attended a MDA lock-up a few years ago in North Wilkesboro and was touched by the number of people there fundraising and rooting for him. “It definitely means a lot that people are raising money for research of muscular dystrophy,” he said. “I can probably speak for everyone with any form of muscular dystrophy when I say that it provides hope for us, and for future generations, of finding new treatments, and possibly a cure.”

The Greensboro MDA district office serves 900 families affected by the disease in 18 North Carolina counties, including Wilkes and Forsyth counties. Forty percent of these families reside in Forsyth County, Stevens said.

After meeting their bails, executives were given the chance to meet with some of the local families affected by muscular dystrophy, as well as the other jailbirds. “It was fun meeting my fellow criminals and knowing we were making a difference,” Jerry Barker, who also participated in the Winston-Salem lock-up, said. “I think we all really came through.”

Barker, president of Ocular Systems Inc., said he knew about the program and the good work it had done in the community before, but the phone call he received in October notifying him he had a warrant in his name still came as a surprise. “Most people are pretty shocked when we call and tell them they’ve been nominated to be one of the area’s ‘most wanted,’” Stevens said. “But they warm up to the idea of being arrested once they know it’s for a good cause.”

Although, Barker jokingly admits he’s miffed one of his employees wanted him in jail. While some community members confessed to nominating their bosses prior to the fundraiser, others opted for anonymity and were placed in the “witness protection program.”

“I still don’t know who it was, but they better have paid up to spring me out of jail,” Barker joked. “But in all seriousness, I’m glad I have this opportunity to give back.” Barker said he enjoyed the lock-up—which was much better than real jail, and not as hard-core—and is already eagerly looking forward to next year. “Gosh,” he said. “I never thought I’d be so excited to go to jail.”