Shon Hopwood was a good kid from a good Nebraskan family, a small-town basketball star whose parents had started a local church. Read more...
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Shon Hopwood was a good kid from a good Nebraskan family, a small-town basketball star whose parents had started a local church. Few who knew him as a friendly teen would have imagined that, shortly after returning home from the Navy, he'd be adrift with few prospects and plotting to rob a bank. But rob he did, committing five heists before being apprehended.
Only twenty three and potentially facing twelve years in Illinois' Pekin Federal Prison, Shon feared his life was already over. He'd shamed himself and his loving family and friends, and a part of him wanted to die. He wasn't sure at first if he'd survive the prison gangs, but slowly glimmers of hope appeared. He earned some respect on the prison basketball court, received a steady flow of letters from hometown well wishers, including a note from a special girl whom he'd thought too beautiful to ever pay him notice - and, most crucially, he secured a job in the prison law library.
It was an assignment that would prove his salvation.
Poring over the library's thick legal volumes, Shon discovered that he had a knack for the law, and he soon became the go-to guy for inmates seeking help. Then came a request to write a complex petition to the Supreme Court - a high-wire act of jailhouse lawyering that had never before met with success.
By the time Shon walked out of Pekin Prison he'd pulled off a series of legal miracles, earned the undying gratitude of numerous inmates, won the woman of his dreams, and built a new life for himself far greater than anything he could have imagined.
A story that mixes moments of high-adrenaline with others of deep poignancy, "Law Man" is a powerful reminder that even the worst mistakes can be redeemed through faith, hard work and the love and support of others.
Beating the system
Shon Hopwood was basically a good kid whose life became a case study in bad decisions. As a young man, he was so bored that when a friend drunkenly suggested a bank heist, “[T]he world was newly framed in that instant,” and off they went. They didn’t stop at one bank, robbing five before his eventual arrest. Sentenced to a dozen years in federal prison at only 23 years old, he worked out relentlessly and worked hard at his job in the prison law library. Knowledge is power, and Hopwood became useful to fellow inmates by helping them with legal questions. When asked to file a petition with the Supreme Court—a hail Mary move for a trained lawyer, much less a prisoner—the results changed his life course forever.
Law Man is a prison memoir and a story of redemption, and Hopwood would be the first to point out how seldom those two things combine. While his own story moves from bleak to fairy-tale fantastic so swiftly you half-expect the inmates to line up and start singing “Don’t Stop Believin’ ” behind him, he notes in a sobering aside that the system’s initial goal of rehabilitation has been abandoned. Prison is now a multi-billion dollar business with a dirt-cheap labor force that is overwhelmingly African-American. That his legal help shortened a few of their sentences is small comfort, but Hopwood’s own transformation is both moving and inspiring.