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Re-entry and Second Chances



This posting was originally titled in September, “Skilled Jailhouse Lawyer Is Now in Law School, Thanks to Bill and Melinda Gates.” It is the true story of a reformed bank robber who served ten years in federal prison. While serving time, he found a calling and a need to help other people.  Shon Hopwood is now attending law school on scholarship and is clerking for a U.S. District Judge. This inmate’s story is interesting, but the reactions to this man’s life and present success were much more fascinating. The original link to the story is posted below with numerous comments and reactions to Shon Hopwood’s life.

The majority of the comments opposed Mr. Hopwood receiving a scholarship to law school since he was an ex-felon. The argument was made why should a former inmate receive a scholarship, when there were more deserving individuals who deserved a scholarship too and they had not committed any crimes in their past. The comments seesawed between continued punishment or a second chance. If an inmate has successfully completed his sentence and was fully rehabilitated, should he be denied a second chance?  If society has denied the former inmate’s second chance-, is it fair for the deniers to scream about the high recidivism rate in the United States?

Shon Hopwood’s life has taken a turn for the better, thanks to his jailhouse lawyering skills and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Hopwood, who served more than nine years in prison for robbing five banks, is attending the University of Washington law school on a foundation scholarship, Bloomberg News and the Lincoln Journal Star report. He clerks for U.S. District Judge John Coughenour of Seattle. He is married, with two children. And he has published a memoir with the help of a co-author that is called Law Man: My Story of Robbing Banks, Winning Supreme Court Cases and Finding Redemption.

Hopwood was assigned to the law library in prison and took correspondence courses. “It turns out,” he wrote, “that school is not so difficult if you actually read the textbooks.” He also helped a prisoner prepare a cert petition for a fellow inmate that was accepted by the U.S. Supreme Court. Former U.S. Solicitor General Seth Waxman, who later represented the petitioner, has said the petition was probably one of the best he has ever read. Hopwood later filed another successful cert petition, as well as briefs in lower courts that helped inmates win reduced sentences.

Hopwood’s scholarship is for students committed to public interest law. “I want to litigate cases for people who can’t afford good lawyers, whether that’s criminal, immigration or civil, I don’t know,” he told the Lincoln Journal Star. “I’ve been given so many second chances that not only is that work that interests me, I think that’s where I need to go.”

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PrisonPathAnthea Mary Boarman, J.D. Recent comment authors
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Anthea Mary Boarman, J.D.

Having represented prisoners for 10 years before a massive stroke, I continue to believe the cages rot the spirit,and would prefer that part of my practice years be considered part of my own redemption! Seeing my former clients walking down streets is amazing. My first legal work was at KY’s prisons, and post-conviction was my last. I hope all lawyers were given the chance to represent those whom nobody else cares! I’ve disapproved of capitalistic money-makers, but that story about the Gates’ inspired me to go on with a business called Legal Assistance, training Legal Aides (free prison service. Thank… Read more »