“We abandoned the car and headed to Tom’s uncle’s farm, and when we got to the farm, I got into the uncle’s grain truck and sat in the bed of that grain truck and I counted the money.” The moneybags, like Hopwood’s blue-gray eyes, bulged with wads of 0s, s, s, and loads of quarters, which pleased Tom to no end, as he was living in an apartment with a coin-operated laundry. They split ,000 that hot August afternoon 16 years ago—one hell of a payday for a 21-year-old farm boy from Nowheresville, Nebraska. “It was gone in two months, and you know, I didn’t buy one thing of consequence, not even a car.” On it went, three more robberies, all choreographed by Hopwood: a ,000 bank heist in Hallam (pop.
“I walked into the bank wearing coveralls and a hard hat. Everything in your body is screaming at you not to do it.” Still, he managed to unzip the coveralls and pull the rifle from the right leg. They then locked the handful of clerks and customers in the vault.
We looked like a couple of construction workers,” Hopwood goes on. No one got hurt, and they promised the captives they’d be out soon. I’d never seen so much money before.” But it went fast: expensive clothes, nice dinners, buying rounds for the college girls at Iguana’s Pub in Lincoln.
Hopwood was no longer the conquering hero—a star shooting guard for the Scouts, practicing for hours under the old hoop in his driveway.
Directionless, he was still drinking, smoking dope, being stupid—and he hadn’t yet realized that Ann Marie Metzner, the prettiest girl in town, still had a crush on him.
On a Sunday morning in August 1997, Hopwood, with a duffel bag filled with clothes and his dad’s rusted red toolbox stuffed with canvas totes to stash the cash, waited for Tom to pick him up at his parents’ house.
En route to Petersburg, they stopped at a college, Wayne State, to pick up some brochures.
Created in 2005 and named for Bill Gates Sr., the million program awarded Hopwood a full-ride scholarship two years ago, financed by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation—one of five given each year to incoming law students who are committed to spending at least five years in public-service law after graduating. Hopwood’s chances were less than one in a hundred even to get a shot at being one of the 20 finalists interviewed.
It didn’t hurt Hopwood, of course, that Seth Waxman, a former United States solicitor general, had written him a letter of reference. That those petitions were written while he was serving time in a federal penitentiary made him even more remarkable. He’d read more law cases, in prison, than any incoming law student I’ve ever seen,” recalls Michele Storms, director of the Gates Law Program.
In a restless mood Shon Hopwood returned to Nebraska, discharged after a two-year hitch in the Navy. He was 21, a party animal who’d come close to drinking himself to death.
Stationed in the Persian Gulf, he and a group of other enlistees had guarded U. He knew things were bad when the base chaplain started asking him about God while he was down for the count with acute pancreatitis in a Bahraini hospital.
“I was so stupid, so stupid and foolish,” Hopwood says now.