Second Chance in the First Degree

“After spending 10 years in prison for bank robbery, Shon R. Hopwood is a law student who has been selected for a prestigious federal court clerkship. ... Assuming he is granted a license to practice law notwithstanding his crimes, his future looks very bright.” – The Robber, The Judge, And the Case For Leniency, The New York Times, August 26, 2013.

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Q: Mr. Hopwood, thank you for coming for your character and fitness interview, a standard part of the new attorney admission process for those who have passed the Bar examination. My name is James Dunn. I’ve been a lawyer for thirty years, and I take great pride in conducting thorough interviews. That said, these interviews are normally not transcribed by a stenographer, but...

A: ...but mine will be because...

Q: ...because of your past...

A: past as a convicted felon, yes. I understand. I can appreciate that the Committee on Character and Fitness might have some reservations about me and my application to be a licensed member of a profession with a very low tolerance for illicit activities. And, well, I used to rob banks!

Q: Exactly, Mr. Hopwood. I’m relieved that you can see things from the Committee’s point of view. We just can’t be too careful about whom we admit to the Bar. So let me just ask you right off the bat, how many actual bank robberies did you—no. You know what? That’s an unfair question. You’ve repaid your debt to society.

A: It’s okay, sir. I don’t expect—I don’t want to be treated any differently. Please, ask me the same questions you’d ask any other applicant for admission to the Bar.

Q: Well, we don’t get many convicted bank robbers applying, of course.

A: Of course. Anyway, it was several. I robbed several banks.

Q: And you served time in prison.

A: I served ten years of the 147 months I’d been sentenced to. I deserved that sentence, because they were armed robberies.

Q: I see. Well, that makes sense. You can’t really expect to rob a bank if you don’t go in with a weapon, and not a small weapon, either. Now, I read that while you were incarcerated, you made a name for yourself as something of a good jailhouse lawyer.

A: I suppose I did. Of course, the name I made for myself isn’t my real name, but an alias. And even though practicing law without a license—which of course I didn’t have—is itself a crime, nobody said anything about it. Not even the Supreme Court of the United States.

Q: That’s right! You petitioned the Supreme Court to hear a fellow inmate’s appeal, didn’t you? Persuading the high court to hear a case is roughly a hundred-to-one proposition, but the Big Nine granted the first petition you filed! How did you ever accomplish that?

A: Oh, I bribed them.

Q: Did you?

A: Absolutely. I managed to get each of the justices a not-insignificant sum of money through certain not-quite-lawful channels. The rest, as they say, is history.

Q: The money you bribed the Supreme Court judges with, was that money you’d stolen from one or more of the banks you’d robbed?

A: Oh, no. I had to return all of that loot. But I was given a substantial reward by the Department of Justice when I turned in my accomplices.

Q: That was pretty smart.

A: Well, I knew that I might want to go to law school one day, and I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to get a scholarship.

Q: You did get a scholarship, though, didn’t you?

A: As it turned out, I got a full scholarship to the University of Washington School of Law in Seattle from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. I’d like to think that I’ve helped the Gates Foundation fulfill its stated mission of providing law school scholarships to deserving convicted violent felons, but I know it probably has more to do with my skill at blackmailing wealthy people.

MR. DUNN: Let the record show that I’m winking at the interviewee.

Q: And now that you’ve graduated, you’re serving as clerk to a federal appellate judge in the District of Columbia. How is that going?

A: It’s terrific. I just started, so I’m really only learning the ropes, so to speak, but I’m sure that in no time I’ll be able to use those ropes to bind the hands of the federal judge herself, and then hold her for ransom. I’m a quick study.

Q: I have no doubt. Just to go back to something we touched on earlier: You said that you served ten years of a 147-month sentence. 147 months would be just over twelve years. I presume you were released early for good behavior.

A: No, I escaped. I started a riot and a fire, and then just walked out the front door while the guards were trying to restore order. I honestly couldn’t tell you if anyone was killed. I never looked back. I put it all behind me to focus on a better life.

Q: And now you have that life. But let me ask you something else, something a little awkward perhaps.

A: By all means. Again, I don’t expect any special treatment.

Q: It’s just that there are so few clerkships available for a large pool of qualified law students. Even though you probably have no idea who else might have been in the running for the prestigious position you were offered despite your checkered past, have you ever wondered about the person who was next in line for the job, as it were? It was almost certainly a straight-A, law review editor who had not served time in a correctional facility after multiple convictions for felony armed robbery. Do you regret possibly having taken the opportunity away from someone who was disadvantaged by having no criminal history?

A: Huh. You think maybe I got the gig because I used to rob banks? Like, somebody wants to use me now to show that giving criminals a second chance can work? You know, I’ve never thought of it that way before. So you’re asking if I didn’t land a job offer that should have gone to somebody else who, all other things being equal, deserved it more.

Q: Essentially, yes. That’s what I’m asking: Did you steal someone else’s job?

A: Oh, no. No, I’d never do that.

Matthew David Brozik wrote this and many other short humor pieces, which have been published in print and online by The New Yorker, Adult Swim, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, Grin & Tonic, The Big Jewel, and no one.

Read more humor here. Or read some fiction here.