By Eileen M. Laux
Eileen M. Laux, a 3L at Florida Coastal School of Law, is student editor of Student Lawyer.
Then a teenager, Hopwood is now a student at the University of Washington School of Law. For many people, an 11-year federal prison sentence would likely end any hopes and dreams or a future that included law school. But he persevered and will soon graduate with his law degree.
Hopwood grew up in rural Nebraska and admits he struggled as an adolescent. He completed most of his undergraduate degree while in federal prison, took courses from numerous schools, and graduated from Bellevue University in Nebraska. “I struggled with depression, some drug and alcohol problems, and a complete lack of purpose,” he says. “I was a very immature young man. I was broke, with no job, and was desperate.”
When the subject of robbing a bank came up, it may have sounded like a solution to all of his problems. “It was the worst decision I ever made and one that I will always regret,” he says.
Hopwood pled guilty and spent the majority of his sentence at the Federal Correction Institution in Pekin, Illinois. He was released in October 2008 to a halfway house and was officially released from Federal Bureau of Prisons custody in April 2009.
Life may have been a confusing path, but Hopwood said he knew one thing: he was going to be a lawyer. His decision to attend law school came about because of his experiences in prison.
“I had a lot of success as a jailhouse attorney in prison,” he says. “The US Supreme Court granted two of the petitions I had prepared, and I won cases for other prisoners in federal circuit and district courts across the country.” One petition was Fellers v. United States, which involved a right to counsel claim. The Court ultimately ruled unanimously that Fellers’s Sixth Amendment rights had been violated.
“Once the Fellers petition had been granted, I settled on the idea that I wanted to pursue law as a career. But I was thinking in terms of becoming a paralegal,” says Hopwood. His now wife encouraged him to go to law school.
Having jailhouse experience can draw different reactions from his law school peers, but Hopwood says people react in either one of two ways.
“They either find my story inspirational or they feel that I should be punished for the rest of my life,” he says. “Fortunately, most reactions fall into the former category.”
Hopwood hopes to practice criminal defense as a public defender or work on impact civil litigation for people who cannot afford representation.
He has enjoyed the process of legal research and writing, but most of all wants to help others. “I have been given a lot of second chances in life, and I hope to use the law to pass on those second chances to others,” he says.
As Hopwood reflects on his experiences, he has learned lessons. “The mistakes of our youth do not have to define us for the rest of our life,” he says.
Vol. 41 No. 9