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From the Bottom to the Top


We all make mistakes. Sometimes we make a very big one. This example shows us that, with the right choices, we can work our way back from almost any mistake. The past is over and done. But the future will be defined by your choices and the effort you extend to male them a reality.

The key to accepting responsibility for your life is to accept the fact 
that your choices, every one of them, are leading you to either success or failure.

Neal Boortz

Never Say Never

while we can make slight changes to our outward appearance,


`The phrase “hitting rock bottom” is often used to describe our worst event or the most difficult moment in our lives. People tend to use this phrase when they are struggling in some form or another—maybe with addiction, financial troubles, the end of a significant relationship, the failure of a business venture or some other difficult situation. Therapists try to encourage people in these situations by reminding them that there is a way to go up, to work their way out if they choose to do so. And with that attitude, many people do work their way up from “rock bottom” situations and go on to accomplish important things. Shon Hopwood is such an example.

Being convicted as a felon and sent to a federal penitentiary would certainly constitute “rock bottom” for most people. It did for Shon Hopwood, a 21-year-old sentenced to 12 years in prison after robbing five banks in Nebraska. 

Hopwood was bored with his life in David City, Nebraska. He had grown up there and left to go away to college, but he returned after one semester because he partied his way to failing grades. Without any goals, he was easily convinced by a friend “with a plan” to rob a series of banks for some quick cash. 

Of course, their plan was full of holes, as they were not experienced criminals. They were two young men who made a very bad choice. They, of course, were caught by the police, and Shon Hopwood was easily convicted on felony charges. 

But, Shon Hopwood’s story does not end there…

Shon had a job in the prison’s law library, but he never thought to read any of the thousands of books around him because they intimidated him so much. However, one day, sparked by a self-motivation to reduce his sentence, he made the choice to start reading and researching his own case. He made this choice to “learn more” in spite of the conditions surrounding him. 

Shon didn’t think that his reading and research on his case would lead other inmates to notice the work he was doing. But many did notice the work as well as the success he was having. Shon was soon asked to help a fellow inmate by filing a petition with the Supreme Court. His first answer—a knee-jerk choice—was to say no. But after additional requests to help his friend, Shon agreed and dove into the research. The petition he developed was in fact accepted by the Supreme Court, and with the help of a lawyer on the outside, the case was ultimately won for his friend. 

Hopwood continued helping other inmates with their cases and won several, but he was constantly discouraged by the fact that he had a felony on his record. Even upon release, he was told that he would not be able to get into law school or ever become a practicing lawyer. But being free, his self-motivation only grew, and he chose to keep trying, despite numerous rejections and lack of experience on his resume. 

Not only did Hopwood secure a law-related job, but with the help of other lawyers he worked with, he was awarded a full scholarship to law school. His success continued as he thrived in law school and later landed a prestigious job in the U.S. Court of Appeals. He married a girl from his hometown, had two children, and later accepted a position as a law professor at Georgetown University. 


If you trace the series of events in Shon Hopwood’s life, you find that his life developed based on the choices he made. You find one very bad choice…the choice to rob those banks with his friend. But his choice to open up a book in the prison law library and his choice to assist an inmate who was desperate for help turned his life in a different direction. So, as you can easily see, Shon’s choices worked against him and later for him. His choices showed, once again, how our choices define our lives. 

With great modesty, Shon attributes his success in life to the many who made the choice to reach out and help him move along in his legal career. No doubt, that is true. But it was Shon’s choice to move his life in a much better direction that gave them the opportunity to do so.


Pivotal Moments, Pivotal Choices 


You and I face pivotal moments in our lives as well. We encounter options laid out in front of us from time to time, and it is our job to make the choice concerning what to do. We all make a bad choice here and there…hopefully not to rob a bank. But it’s what we do to make up for that poor choice that ultimately makes the difference. If we take that first step to head our life in a better direction, we, like Shon, can go on to accomplish extraordinary things.

while we can make slight changes to our outward appearance,

The choices you make now,
the people you surround yourself with,
they all have the potential to affect your life,
even who you are, forever.

Sarah Dressen

Questions/Discussion Points



How big a mistake did Shon make in listening to his friend?


How important were other people in helping Shon achieve and live a better life?


Discuss why all of your choices, large and small, play a role in defining your life.

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