THE BLOG

Law Man

08/09/2012 04:08 pm ET | Updated Oct 09, 2012

Law Man by Shon Hopwood, is a magnificent story that shows how one man can come into federal prison without much in the way of hope, then pursue a self-directed path to educate himself and emerge with extraordinary opportunities. The story will inspire anyone who reads it, but it would prove especially meaningful for any man in prison who aspired to build a life of honor, dignity and respect.

Like many men in prison, Shon entered the federal prison system in a lost state of mind. After a string of bad decisions, he turned to bank robbery with the mistaken idea that it might improve his life. Crime may have been a bad choice, but it turned out to be the catalyst of an amazing journey for Shon that provided him with an opportunity to show the world that bad decisions didn't define a man, but rather, the way he responded to them did. While still in his early 20s, he was arrested and soon thereafter Shon was sentenced to a prison term that would keep him locked within the confines of medium-security federal prison for longer than a decade.

Shon did not have much hope when he began serving his sentence, and as such, he began his adjustment in a way that was typical of men caught inside the barbed wire bureaucracy. He got high, hung out with the wrong crowd, thought more about getting through his sentence than he thought about what type of life he would lead upon release. That initial adjustment led to some predictable disciplinary problems that included a job change to the prison's law library. While ensconced within the caverns of Federal Reporters and Federal Supplements that fill book shelves in all prisons built before the introduction of the Trulincs computer system, Shon began to read. And in reading about legal procedures and legal decisions, Shon found his calling.

In time, Shon learned how to make sense of all of those legal books. Through the hours that he invested, he learned that there was a logic within them, and once he figured out how to use the books, he became a valuable resource for hundreds of prisoners around him. Shon was not the typical jailhouse lawyer who schemed to fill his locker with commissary by writing ridiculous briefs that didn't amount to anything more than therapeutic litigation. Instead, Shon made a real effort to understand the law and how to apply it in creative ways that brought results. And he succeeded.

Law Man recounts the story of how one of Shon's fellow prisoners turned to him for assistance with an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. The circuit court had affirmed the man's conviction and he did not have resources to retain competent counsel for the long-shot effort for relief from the highest court in the land. Shon understood the enormous odds against being heard by the Supreme Court, but he agreed to research the case and write a petition for certiorari with hopes that his work would provide his fellow prisoner with relief.

Although most every prisoner has a right to appeal his case to an appellate court, the Supreme Court is different. It is a court that considers cases of national importance. Each year, the court receives applications from several thousand of America's most distinguished lawyers who implore the high court to hear the reasons why their clients deserve a hearing. Thousands of cases seek review, but the nine justices agree to hear and deliberate over the merits of only a small fraction of the cases submitted. Yet when the justices received the brief that Shon Hopwood put together, they decided that the case had merit. The justices agreed to deliberate over a full brief and listen to oral arguments on why they should reverse the legal opinion rendered by both the district court and the appellate court.

As a federal prisoner without a license to practice law, Shon could not represent his friend's case before the Supreme Court. Instead, he reached beyond the fences to seek legal counsel who would present the case. Seth Waxman, one of the most distinguished lawyers in the United States and a partner at the high-powered firm of WilmerHale, took over the case. Mr. Waxman agreed to take the case on a pro bono basis on one condition: he wanted Shon Hopwood to serve as a "co-counsel" of sorts. That collaboration not only led to a victory for Shon's friend, earning him an early release, it also brought Shon a team of legal mentors who would guide him through the remainder of his journey in prison and beyond.

In Law Man, Shon recounted other judicial victories that distinguished him through the remainder of his prison term. Upon his release, Shon continued his education and landed a job that would offer opportunities for him to further develop his competencies and work within the legal profession. Others became aware of his tenacity, leading to a wonderful article about Shon's accomplishments in the New York Times. That article introduced Shon Hopwood to millions of readers, which led to his receiving a full scholarship from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, allowing him to study toward a law degree at the University of Washington School of Law; it also introduced the amazing former prisoner's accomplishments to the literary community and resulted in his receiving a publishing opportunity from Crown Books, a first-tier New York publishing house.

Stories about negative adjustment patterns through dominate the news. Through his well written book Law Man, Shon Hopwood demonstrates that a man who chooses to can emerge from prison as a law-abiding, contributing citizen.

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