By Dan Silvia, Communications Manager
The Federal Bureau of Prisons is just a little more than a block away from his office. It serves as a reminder for Shon Hopwood of a distant, past life, but Hopwood has other things on his mind these days. Rather than occupying a cell in the prison system, Hopwood is just getting comfortable in his new office at the Georgetown University Law Center.
Hopwood, after serving 11 years in prison for a series of bank robberies in Nebraska, earned his bachelor’s degree in Pre-Law Studies from Bellevue University in 2011. He earned his Juris Doctor from the University of Washington in 2014, his Master of Laws from Georgetown in 2017 and is now an Associate Professor of Law at Georgetown. He started teaching his first classes this fall.
Hopwood, from David City, Nebraska, was first profiled by Bill Wax on the Bellevue University Alumni Blog back in September of 2012. His continuing journey was documented in the Washington Post in April of this year.
“I can’t believe this is really happening. It’s real,” Hopwood said. “I wake up most days thinking how blessed I am that I have been given all these second chances from various people.”
An early stop on Hopwood’s journey back from prison was Bellevue University. His wife, Ann Marie, had earned her Master of Science in Mental Health Counseling from the University in 2009 and raved about the school. A liberal credit transfer policy helped seal the deal.
“I had credits that I had accumulated while in prison from five or six different universities. Bellevue was one of the schools that were willing to take on those credits. They worked with me on that, transferring those credits over,” Hopwood explained.
Once on campus, Professor emeritus Dr. Judd Patton helped guide him.
“He had a big impact on my time at Bellevue and I really enjoyed getting to know him,” Hopwood said, “He’s one of the other reasons that I chose Bellevue.”
Patton recalled a Hopwood as an engaged student eager to learn.
“Shon was in my Biblical Economics class. He was excited about the material, devoured it–so to speak–and participated in the online discussions with vigor. Given his prison experience, he quickly grasped one of the organic precepts of the course: the moral realm and economic realm are inexorably tied together,” Patton said. “It’s always a joy for professors to have students who are enthusiastic, hard workers who read and study the material as assigned, participate in lively class discussions, and share their questions and insights with their classmates. Shon had and has those qualities. No wonder he became a college professor! It was an honor to have him in class.”
Hopwood also praised his academic advisors who helped set him up for success not only at Bellevue University, but for his next step into law school as well.
“They were instrumental in figuring out what I needed to do to be successful and finish my undergrad degree,” he said. “Then they gave me a plan that allowed me to pull it all off, right before I went to law school. I graduated in July in the summer of 2011. Then I moved to Seattle in August and started law school in September 2011. Bellevue really worked with me to design a plan that would get me into law school as quickly as possible.”
Hopwood felt well prepared for law school by his Bellevue University education as well as the hard work he had put in while behind bars.
“Many of the things that we covered the first year at law school were things that we had covered at Bellevue,” he said. “My experience with law school is so different from anybody else. I mean I had ten years of being a practicing lawyer in prison that prepared me for law school and so I knew a lot more coming in.”
“I’ve been on Capitol Hill a few times to talk to lawmakers up there about the criminal justice system, he said. “Part of the problem is the punishment never really ends even when someone walks out of prison. In fact, sometimes, the punishment can be worse once people are out. No one will rent them a place to live and no one will hire them. I’m working on papers specifically about people with serious misdemeanor convictions, felony convictions, or sobriety issues that have gone to law school and having to go through the various character and fitness tests.”
It was actually a historic day when Hopwood was hired at Georgetown. He came on board the same day as the new basketball coach, Patrick Ewing. One could get into a healthy debate about who is the better rebounder between Ewing and Hopwood.
Going forward, Hopwood hopes to be the best teacher he can be.
“I want to be a good a good scholar and a good teacher and to have an impact on criminal justice reform,” he said. “The best thing about working at Georgetown is if I have an issue either in litigation or my policy work there is an expert in just about every legal specialty you can think of here. I work with some incredibly talented people.”