Thanks to a scholarship from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, former criminal Shon Hopwood is attending the University of Washington for law classes. Hopwood robbed five banks and learned law while in jail. He then petitioned the Supreme Court, served his prison sentence, was released, started a family and is now in law school. A lot happened for Hopwood while in prison, including receiving letters from his high school sweetheart on top of everything else. Hopwood has also published a memoir, “Law Man,” which was co-written with Dennis Burke.
Hopwood was sent to prison at the age of 23. “Although I was scared, I wanted to see the place and know that I could handle it — that I could survive If you had a summer camp for kids with extreme anger management problems, and you took away most of the adults, added weapons, and you didn’t let anyone go home for years and years, you’d have a U.S. prison. It’s strictly ‘Lord of the Flies.’”
Hopwood was sentenced to 12 years in prison, serving nine and a half of them. While in prison he started working in the prison’s law library. “It turns out,” he wrote in his book, “that school is not so difficult if you actually read the textbooks.”
While in prison, a fellow inmate approached Hopwood about a case that the Supreme Court was very interested in at the time. Hopwood petitioned the court, which accepted it in the case of Fellers v. United States. The case focused on officers reading suspects their Miranda rights and the allocation of the Fifth and Sixth Amendments.
“The Court, in fact, receives tens of thousands of prisoner-written briefs,” Hopwood writes. “It usually grants only about 1 percent of cases that are filed, and far, far less than that for cases that are filed pro se, without the help of a lawyer.”