Shon Hopwood's unique career in the law has taken a dramatic new turn. The onetime jailhouse lawyer who served time in federal prison for robbing banks has been hired as a 2014 law clerk for Judge Janice Rogers Brown of the prestigious U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit."I'm amazed at the opportunities and second chances I have been given," said Hopwood Wednesday after returning home to Seattle from his interview with Brown on Monday. Hopwood said the judge offered him the job soon after the interview. "I quickly said yes."While in Washington, D.C. Hopwood, 38, also visited former solicitor general Seth Waxman, who has been something of a mentor to Hopwood for more than a decade. They made contact after a certiorari petition Hopwood wrote for a fellow inmate while in prison was granted review by the Supreme Court. The 2004 case was Fellers v. United States. Hopwood chronicled his experiences in the 2012 book Law Man: My Story of Robbing Banks, Winning Supreme Court Cases, and Finding Redemption.After a post-prison stint with Cockle Law Brief Printing Company in Nebraska, Hopwood has been a student for the last two years at University of Washington School of Law. Last summer he interned for a federal district court judge in Seattle, and this summer he has been working in the federal public defender's office, also in Seattle. Hopwood said that partly because of the budget cuts caused by sequestration, he has appeared in court for sentencing and other proceedings more often than fellow students working at law firms. Hopwood is scheduled to graduate from law school next summer....
After his year with Judge Brown, will Hopwood follow in the footsteps of other D.C. Circuit clerks and apply for a Supreme Court clerkship? "I haven't given that any thought at all," he said, sounding surprised at the question. "I'm taking it one step at a time, and I'm still in a state of shock."
UPDATE -- the judge who sentenced Hopwood, Judge Kopf, wrote a blog post about his sentencing decision and gut instincts at sentencing. Hopwood and the judge have a fascinating discussion in the comments section, including this initial letter from Hopwood:
Shon Hopwood says:
August 8, 2013 at 11:07 am
Dear Judge Kopf,
I wouldn’t say that your sentencing instincts suck. While I meant what I said at sentencing, I was hardly the person that could back it up. I was a reckless and selfish young man back then. I changed. I think most of us change from the age of 22 to 38. And many, like me, outgrow the irresponsibility and foolishness. I can’t tell you how many law enforcement officers (including prosecutors) have come up to me and said something similar to this: I know your story and I too committed some crimes when I was young (although not in the category of bank robberies), and I was lucky enough to not get caught. They changed and channeled their energies and became responsible professionals. I did, too.
And to answer Russ’s question, as far as the length of sentencing, I think it had little effect on my rehabilitation. Prison is not the place for personal growth. Very few people come out of it for the better. From my experience, sentences over 5 years do little to help society or the prisoner. Five years is about the maximum amount of time for someone to “get it” and change and create a different life. More than that, and prisoners feel hopelessness and they think “why bother, I just need to get through this and go home.” It’s very difficult to “seize the day” in prison and use every day to prepare for release when you staring at a 10- or 20-year sentence in the face. And like I said, prisons are not designed with rehabilitation in mind. It’s almost solely about incapacitation, which is why the national recidivism rate hovers at 66%.
I made it because I grew up and because I received a large dollop of God’s grace in the form of: 1) a loving family that never gave up on me; 2) finding the law and helping others through the law, which gave me purpose; 3) a beautiful woman who encouraged me (and I later married once I was released); and 4) some gracious lawyers at WilmerHale who mentored me and pushed me to dream big (my original dream was to become a paralegal, not law school, and definitely not a future clerk on the DC Circuit).
But as a judge, you’re constrained by the system we have. I’ve never believed that it’s up to judges to fix that system on their own. It requires citizens to view criminal justice issues differently (and heck, to view prisoners differently), and a Congress to actually pass some legislation.
I feel fortunate that I have been given so many second chances, including the sentence which allowed me to be released at a fairly young age. That doesn’t always happen.