Repeat offender's turnaround reflects aim of Missouri prison program

Thursday, July 23, 2009 | 5:22 p.m. CDT

SEDALIA — Adam Arnall spent two decades bouncing between prison and freedom before pledging that his latest release would be his last.

So far so good.

Arnall works six days per week in the subzero freezers of the shipping department at a Tyson poultry plant and spends his time off doing yard work and watching videos with his wife, Mitzi Arnall.

"It makes me feel so good cashing that check, paying those bills, because I know today that's what our life is about," Adam Arnall said. "And I wouldn't give it up for anything — for any type of fun like I used to have in the past."

Arnall was interviewed by The Associated Press last year while completing a prison sentence at the Tipton Correctional Center for receiving stolen property. Speaking then in the prison's visitor room, Arnall said he planned to restart his life and focus on family and a job while using lessons from Missouri's prison transition program.

The AP interviewed Arnall again exactly one year after his prison release date to see how it all turned out.

Arnall now lives in a home he will own with his wife in about eight years. The house is just off the main drag in Sedalia — about halfway between Kansas City and Jefferson City — and has American flags posted on both sides of a worn concrete walk. Inside, shelves filled with movies stretch toward the ceiling.

It's the kind of outcome Missouri officials had in mind when they started a program in 2002 that is designed to reduce the number of people who end up in prison again. It uses special transitional housing units, classes that focus on helping inmates address the underlying problems that led them to crime and coordination among state agencies and social service groups.

The Department of Corrections said it has found that inmates who spend at least five months in transitional housing are less likely to return. From July 1, 2005, through March 31, 2009, nearly one-third of released inmates were back in prison within one year. The recidivism rate for those who lived in special housing units was less than 25 percent. After two years, the total recidivism rate is nearly 50 percent and 37 percent for those who lived in transitional housing.

For Arnall, parole office Alice Stever said, there has been a significant "whole package of change."

Asked if the degree of that change was surprising, Stever said, "From the Adam that we've known in the past, yes. You always hope for it, but you don't see it all that often — not as often as we'd like."

Arnall, who has spent a combined 23 years in prison, took as many classes as he could. He soaked up lessons about how his family has been victimized by crimes not involving them.

And none too soon. Mitzi Arnall said she was convinced that her husband was a good man who needed more maturity, so she stuck with him through three trips to prison. But he likely was on his last strike.

"It's not like it was just him locked up — his family was locked up, too," she said. "We were doing time."

Adam Arnall grew up in Buffalo about 50 miles north of Springfield. But by 14, he was on his own and took off for the state of California. Since then, he's been to every state but Alaska and Hawaii and has held an assortment of jobs such as building freezer units and working on high-rise buildings.

His criminal history is just as varied. The first trip to prison was in 1983. He served seven years and nine months for assault on a law enforcement officer. An encore of often overlapping prison terms followed for burglary, forgery, stealing, receiving stolen property and drunken driving.

State officials are hoping to cash in on Arnall's change, too. Arnall is scheduled to speak in September to a panel for those on probation. His is to be a different presence at a meeting that generally features those affected by crime — not the people fresh from prison.

"It is beneficial to have an offender talk about their life, and their situation, and how they got involved in the criminal justice system and how they are making changes," said Dena Freeman, the probation and parole unit supervisor in Pettis county.

Those are subjects familiar to Arnall.

"I'm doing what I'm supposed to. I'm paying my bills, I'm paying my taxes, I'm working every day like normal people do," he said. "It's a great feeling, and I'm finally able to look back and say, 'OK, it wasn't all worthless. It wasn't all just time.' I actually learned something."


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Nathan McFarlane March 2, 2011 | 9:30 a.m.

I grew up with Adam and when he went to Cali. he was not 14 I would say closer to 18, since before he left he was working at the Petit Jean chicken processing plant in Buffalo, and was driving to work every night.

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