Arlington County Sheriff James A. Gondles pleaded guilty to three somewhat unusual charges last week and, after a mock arrest, was led away in handcuffs by one of his own deputies.
Dressed in a black-and-white-striped, convict-style running suit, the 231-pound Gondles stood in court with his hands behind his back and confessed he was guilty of excessive caffeine consumption, eating too much salt and living too stressful a life.
"You look like a giant zebra," the judge remarked. "Do you intend to correct these bad habits?"
"I'll try," Gondles said.
The rather unconventional courtroom proceeding was part of "Cardiac Arrest," a fund-raising effort by the Northern Virginia Council of the American Heart Association. The program, the third in the area since June, is a campaign to raise money for heart research and build public awareness on how to avoid heart disease, the nation's leading killer.
Gondles was one of five Arlington and Falls Church employes to be "arrested" April 17. Each was brought to a room at Marymount College, which served as the "court," and sentenced by Arlington County Clerk of Courts David Bell, who served as the "judge." The crimes varied: excessive caffeine consumption, smoking, living with too much stress, eating foods with too much cholesterol.
After each had been sentenced, they were given a health lecture and released. The catch? Friends and colleagues of the accused had to raise enough money for the $300 bail.
"It's a humorous and positive way to approach a very serious subject," said Debbie Schiro, special events coordinator for the council. According to Schiro, the campaign raised $2,700 by the end of the day, and additional pledges were expected to bring the total to about $4,000.
For Gondles, the ordeal did not end in just one day.
When he was asked to participate in the program, Gondles received a challenge from his staff, which he accepted: If they could raise $600, he would stay in the Arlington Jail for 24 hours; for each additional $100 raised, he would remain incarcerated for another four hours.
"I thought well, hell, they'll never raise $600, so I said sure," Gondles explained. "Then I found out . . . they'd raised $1,000," he groaned.
By the time of his afternoon trial, his staff and friends had raised $1,265. Although Gondles said he realized he could be jailed for two days, he asked to be released after 40 hours to attend business appointments Friday.
"They agreed, out of the kindness of their hearts," he joked.
Sitting in a jail office, about to have the dubious honor of being the first "prisoner" to use the new wing, Gondles talked about the American Heart Association.
"Other than the American Cancer Society, I can't think of a more deserving organization," he said.
He said his day's experience would probably make him more health-conscious, too.
"I need to lose some weight, get more exercise and drink less coffee," he said. "Now the hard part is doing it."
Although he had been given permission to watch a black-and-white TV in his cell, Gondles knew he would be subject to pretty much the same routine as other prisoners.
"It showed me how noisy a jail was," he said afterward. "The first night I didn't sleep more than four hours. It gave me great perspective."
But he did watch two nights of the television miniseries "Space."
"I almost cried at the end," he said.