From Jail to Georgetown
This story is almost one of my favorites and it has more to do with miracles than it has to do with health. But feast yourself on a great story. If you’ve got lemons – make lemonade. And who knows, it could lead to a true purpose in life!
Twenty years ago, Shon Hopwood’s future did not look as promising as it does today.
Over the course of two decades, Hopwood has transformed himself from a convicted bank robber into a highly accomplished associate professor of law at Georgetown Law School. Steve Kroft spoke with 60 Minutes Overtime about what drew him to the story.
“I think it’s one of the most compelling stories I’ve ever covered,” says Kroft. “Shon was one of the best characters.” That’s no small statement from Kroft, who has covered hundreds of stories since his tenure at 60 Minutes began in 1989.
Kroft’s story is titled “Redemption,” but he says Hopwood’s life isn’t “your typical redemption story.”
“The facts are what really make it interesting,” says Kroft, “and the progression of events. The fact that he accomplished something, really, I don’t think anybody else has ever accomplished before: getting out of prison and becoming a law professor. That’s just not done.”
As we learn in Kroft’s 60 Minutes story, Shon Hopwood dropped out of college, drank his way through two years of Navy service and then drifted back to his hometown of David City, Nebraska. At first, he turned to alcohol and drugs to ease his boredom, but when that wasn’t enough, he tried something more dangerous – robbing banks.
‘I wanted to live an exciting life,” he tells Kroft. “And shoveling cow manure in small-town Nebraska and living in my parents’ bedroom wasn’t quite cutting it.”
At 22 years old, he walked into a small-town bank armed with a rifle in search of “easy money.”
Five bank robberies later, Hopwood’s luck ran out. The FBI released a composite sketch of him and officers closed in, apprehending him in July 1998. After searching his car, they found multiple guns and $100,000 in cash that traced directly back to the bank he had just robbed.
“They had me,” he says.
Hopwood credits “self-motivation” as the spark that pushed him to crack open law books while serving time at a federal penitentiary in Illinois. Soon, he discovered he had a passion for the law and started to see casework as a fascinating puzzle.
He began using his knowledge to help other inmates, whose cases were sometimes in dire need of help.
“Lawyers had made really bad mistakes, and it really cost their clients sometimes, you know, a decade or two in federal prison,” he says.
Shon Hopwood’s life may be an inspiring story, but he says it would be wrong to think federal prison is what helped him turn his life around.
“Prison is not the place for personal growth,” he says. “We warehouse people and then we kick them out into the real world with very little support and hope that a miracle happens”
If you’re having a bad day, watch this story!