Letters: Bank Robber-Turned-Law Clerk

Robert Siegel reads an email from a listener about Shon Hopwood, a bank robber turned law clerk.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Finally, this hour, your letters. Actually just one letter in response to yesterday's story about Shon Hopwood. Fourteen years ago, Hopwood was sentenced to 12 years in federal prison for robbing banks in Nebraska. Once in prison, he worked in a law library and began studying the law. Ultimately, he achieved a remarkable feat for any lawyer. He persuaded the Supreme Court to hear not one but two cases.

After Hopwood's release, he was granted a full scholarship to the University of Washington School of Law in Seattle. Next year, he'll clerk on one of the country's most important courts, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. circuit. Melissa Block talked to both Hopwood and Richard Kupf, the judge who sentenced him more than a decade ago.

SHON HOPWOOD: I had committed some pretty serious crimes and I deserved to go to prison, so I have never been resentful or never thought that my sentence was unjust.

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

Judge Kupf, how does that strike you, what Shon just said?

JUDGE RICHARD KUPF: Well, that's the kind of intellectual honesty that humbles me.

SIEGEL: Shon Hopwood's story hit close to home for Victoria Mullins(ph) of Las Vegas. She writes that she has two drug felonies and just started her third year at the William S. Boyd School of Law at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Mullins says after her husband died in 2005, she turned to drug use. Now, she says she's turned her life around and just started working at a courthouse in Nevada.

And Mullins writes this: After my fingerprints came back, I was told I would not be allowed to work in the federal courthouse because of my felonies. The judge and his assistant stood up for me and I received my access card to the courthouse on Tuesday. I wish more people could see hope for themselves, even after they're convicted of a felony.

Mullins continues: There is some discrimination out there, but it almost always comes from people who don't know me, who haven't met me. It is easy to say that felons are all bad when you don't realize you're talking to one. Most people don't believe me when I tell them. I have to give them enough detail. I try not to hide this part of my past from people, unless I feel it's necessary.

I never know when telling about what I've been through may help another person. Well, thanks for your letters. Please keep writing. Just to go NPR.org and click on Contact.

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