This Bank Robber Found a Safer Way to Challenge the Legal System
“There's not a day that goes by that I don't have remorse over the destruction I caused. “
Shon grew up in the small town of David City, Nebraska. He never felt like he measured up. After flunking out of college and serving two years in the Navy he was back at home.
“Woke up every morning having no plan whatsoever. You throw in some drug and alcohol addiction and depression. It’s, ya know, it was a recipe for disaster.”
So it wasn’t a hard sell when a friend brought up the idea of robbing banks.
“To me it seemed like a solution to all my problems. Because I had no money, I had no job and this was an easy, quick way to get money. We would wear coveralls and a mask and a hardhat and look like construction workers going into the bank. “
The FBI learned the identity of the men behind the masks, and Shon received an 11 year sentence for his part in the robberies. He had shamed his family, and his parents hoped this was his wake up call. His mother prayed diligently.
“She continued to pray for me every day, even when there was no indication that I would ever become saved.”
But Shon wasn’t interested in his own jailhouse conversion. His work assignment in the prison library was keeping him occupied. Shon became far more skilled at the finer points of the law than he ever was at breaking it.
“I started writing memos for other prisoners and eventually writing legal briefs. I really enjoyed the process of solving these legal puzzles and then writing out the answer in the form of a legal brief.”
The first petition he filed for a fellow inmate made it all the way to the Supreme Court, in the one percentile of cases they decide to hear.
“That 1 percent chance is for lawyers that are filing; for an indigent prisoner filing without a lawyer, it's about a 1 percent of 1 percent chance.”
He was bombarded with requests from inmates to file petitions on their behalf.
“It was the first thing I’d done in life that was challenging and that I actually had success at.”
He also started exchanging letters with Anne, a woman he knew from his hometown. Those letters were the start of a courtship. When Shon was released from prison he knew two things for sure, he wanted to earn a law degree and marry Anne.
“I went to my sister-in-law, borrowed an engagement ring from her, and decided that I couldn't really make a grand proposal because I didn't have the money to do that.”
Shon had served his time and was ready to start a new life with Anne. But he still struggled with what he had done, and how the robberies affected his victims.
“You know, no one was physically hurt, but I sure scared people. “
Shon didn’t know how to get past the guilt. But he tried to put it behind him and get on with his life. He called a family minister and asked him to perform his and Anne’s wedding.
“And he said, "Sure, but first you're going to do marriage counseling, that's a requirement. I won't marry you otherwise." And the first day we sat down we didn't talk about marriage at all. He just laid out the gospel and asked us what we believed.”
Shon realized that before he could move on with his life, there was something he needed to do.
“I was thinking about all the things I had done, all of my inadequacies and that I needed Jesus bad. I just remember praying, praying for forgiveness, praying that Jesus would forgive me for my sins. It felt like a weight was off my shoulders, the guilt and the shame.”
Today Shon and Anne are married with two kids. He graduated from the University of Washington School of Law with a Jurist Doctorate. He will soon begin clerking for the circuit court of appeals in Washington D.C.
“You know, the United States leads the world in incarcerating people. And we just throw them away in prison and hope for a miracle to occur. But we know that that doesn't happen and so I, I do feel like God has given me this position to use for that purpose.”
And as a father, Shon now understands God’s love for him.
“It’s like a Father’s love, you know, unconditional love no matter what you do, you're not going to be rejected. That's the kind of love that I try to have with my own kids. They may not listen, they may run off and be very disobedient, but at the end of the day I’m going to love them regardless. And I think that gives – I know it gives me peace. I think that’s one of the things that most Christians feel is love and peace. “