By Maline Hazle, Record Searchlight
Michael Glenn Arnold celebrates his 45th birthday today in a prison surrounded by the seemingly endless flat green fields of the southern Central Valley, 500 miles from his Redding roots, his mother, his wife, his son.
It's a million miles away from where the founder and former president
of the Downtown Redding Business Association and tireless leader of civic
causes ever expected to be.
Chances are still good that he'll prevail in his fight for another trial on 16 felony convictions on charges including grand theft, embezzlement and forgery, he said in a telephone interview from prison Thursday.
"There are several issues still up in the air," Arnold said. "We're looking forward to having a new trial."
Those issues, including a federal court case he believes should have shortened his 12-year, eight-month state prison sentences, are better heard either by the state or federal supreme courts, he said.
"I've had lots of time to become an expert," said Arnold, chuckling slightly. "The district courts don't like to overturn their local judges."
Arnold and his wife, Suzanne, are working to document his case, still collecting witnesses and evidence they hope will prove that he was prosecuted on a set of circumstances that were twisted to convince the jury of his guilt.
"And people bought into what they heard," including newspaper accounts of the case, he said. "We've spent a great deal of time backing up everything we've got."
Arnold is funneling his newfound expertise to projects beyond his bid for retrial.
He's writing two books.
One of the books is being written in collaboration with his mother, longtime Redding resident Lenora Smith, who founded the House of Steno when he was a baby.
That book will address "things that have happened in Redding over the years," Arnold said.
His second book, which he writes in longhand and sends home for his wife to transcribe, is about his experience fighting the House of Steno bankruptcy, federal check-kiting charges and, finally, the case that landed him in state prison.
"I've been in a lot of places I never expected to be," Arnold said. "I've witnessed a lot."
Those places include two county jails, two federal prisons where he served two years on the federal bank fraud charge, and a couple of state prisons, the most recent being the state prison in Corcoran in Kings County.
"Abu Ghraib is nothing compared to some of those places," he said.
The worst of them, Arnold said, was the first place he spent time behind bars -- the Sacramento County Jail, where he was held while awaiting sentencing on the federal charge.
Arnold wasn't fond of the Shasta County jail, either, where he complains he was shoved against a wall when he asked a guard why he was going through legal papers in his cell.
Arnold was briefly hospitalized after that incident and said he has now learned that he suffered "more damage than we thought." County records show that Arnold's complaint about the incident was ruled unfounded and that he was locked down for 30 days as a disciplinary measure.
Arnold's claim against the county was rejected, but he said he and his wife will continue to pursue the case.
Arnold is complaining, too, about state prison conditions as the elected inmate advisory committee vice chairman.
"It's a tough job. We talk about how the custody staff and inmates could get along better, cleanliness of the premises, food issues," he said. "You try to help get the inmates back on track. It's a touchy kind of job. You don't work for the staff; it's the inmates who elect you."
Arnold also writes his own complaints, and not all of them sit well with his keepers.
Last month, after a year in one section of the prison, he was transferred, he said, "because I upset the guards by complaining in writing that they were not following the rules. They were not doing their jobs."
The trauma of the move, he said, may have caused him to have a heart attack. Evidence of a possible heart attack showed up during recent blood work in preparation for neck surgery, he said.
He believes he may also have suffered heart attacks in the Sacramento County Jail and as he was being transferred into federal custody.
Earlier this week, Arnold said, "I failed miserably when they gave me a stress test." He said he is expecting to undergo heart catheterization any day now.
Despite those problems, Arnold said, he hasn't lost his sense of humor and has no regrets.
"I'd be home today if I had taken the (Shasta County) district attorney's deal," a plea bargain that offered a six-year prison term, he said.
His decision to fight the charges was carefully considered by the entire family, he said.
"It's a decision Cameron (his son), my mom and Sue and I made, and I would do this again," he said.
"I've learned a great deal about people, about small communities. The thing I missed most was not being there for Cameron for high school. He graduates this year, and then he's off to the university."
Arnold calls home twice a day -- 15-minute collect calls interrupted by reminders that the call is coming from a state prison inmate.
Once a month, Suzanne Arnold makes the thousand-mile round-trip to visit her husband. She is his advocate and researcher and says she fights to keep him healthy.
He faces at least five more years in prison.
Reporter Maline Hazle can be reached at 225-8266 or at firstname.lastname@example.org .
Copyright 2005, Redding. All Rights Reserved.