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From Prisoner to Professor: Felon to Teach at Georgetown Law

The lawyer, who passed the bar exam two years ago, said he was shocked by the job offer

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    News4's Chris Gordon introduces us to a man who served 11 years in prison and now will teach law at Georgetown University.

    (Published Thursday, April 20, 2017)

    A man who spent 11 years in federal prison for robbing banks will soon teach at Georgetown University's acclaimed law school.

    Shon Hopwood was hired as a full professor at the Georgetown University Law Center, the school said. The lawyer, who passed the bar exam two years ago, said he was shocked by the offer.

    "I never thought I would go to law school. I never thought I would become a licensed attorney," he said.

    Hopwood, 41, said he was a college dropout living in a small town in Nebraska when he and a friend began robbing banks, armed with guns.

    "I went in with one of my co-defendants, with guns, told everybody to get on the ground and then went and grabbed as much money as we could in a minute or two and then left," he said. 

    He was caught by the FBI and pleaded guilty.

    As he served 11 years in prison, he got a job in one facility's law library and began writing briefs for fellow inmates. His third appeal went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, where it was decided unanimously, shaving four years off a friend's sentence.

    Hopwood had found a calling.

    "When I started winning cases for other prisoners while I was still inside prison, I found that I really enjoyed helping other people with their legal problems, especially people who can't afford a good lawyer," he said.

    When he was released from prison, Hopwood was encouraged to go to law school. He attended the University of Washington School of Law in Seattle, clerked for a federal judge and published a book: "Law Man: My Story of Robbing Banks, Winning Supreme Court Cases and Finding Redemption.”

    Georgetown professors initially had their doubts about Hopwood, law professor Paul Rothstein said. 

    "I think before we met him, some of the people here thought, 'Wow. This is a person with a record. That raises some flags,'" Rothstein said. 

    There are no longer any questions. 

    "This guy is really going to make a contribution to our students and really bring a perspective here that no one else can," Rothstein said. 

    With experience on both sides of the law, Hopwood will teach about criminal procedure and prisoners' rights.

    He said he wants to educate students and the community about prison reform. 

    "I hope that my job here will inspire people that do not believe a second chance is possible," he said. 

    He encouraged other felons to explore directions their lives can take as they re-enter society.

    "You can never really overcome a felony conviction, but you can make that impact on your life a lot less, the more education you receive," he said.