Reporter's Notebook

The art and science of the interview

Gilding the Lily

leave a comment »


One of the best interviews I’ve ever heard was today on NPR between Shon Hopwood and Judge Richard Kopf, moderated by Melissa Block. The first part of it was about Mr. Hopwood, who robbed several banks and was sentenced by Judge Kopf to 13 years in federal prison. He became a jail house attorney and, over years of work, managed to get a petition heard by the Supreme Court. Apparently, that is almost unheard of for a practicing attorney, let alone by a prisoner pecking away anonymously on a typewriter in prison. And then, years later, he did it again.

Now, as an aside, some may see this as an excuse to remove law books from prisons because they may think inmates have no business learning, let alone applying law principles. This story is a testimony to justice and redemption, and blocking people from the only avenue they have to achieve both, other than waiting out their time, kills another chance for either.

When Hopwood got out of prison, he was granted a full scholarship to University of Washington in Seattle Law College.

But deeper into the interview were two huge reveals. The first was from Judge Kopf. He was convinced when he sentenced Hopwood fourteen years ago, that he was a punk who would never see the light of day again. The judge said in the interview that after hearing Hopwood’s story, he realized that there are many times in the subsequent years when he could’ve been wrong. He said his characterization of Hopwood had made him realize that just because he is a judge, that he is not always right.

The other twist came in Hopwood’s response. When asked if he felt the judge was right, Hopwood said yes. He admitted to being a troubled young man, deserving of the sentence he was given. The takeaway for me was that both of these men, essentially in the dark as to the true nature of the other, learned only after more than a decade that they both were essentially right … and wrong. In response to Shon, the judge replied that Shon has intellectual honesty and introspection.

Mr. Hopwood will be clerking for Federal Judge Janice Rogers Brown, of the US Appellate Court for the District of Columbia. He plans to apply to the Bar.

One of the things that makes this interview great is the same thing that makes lasagna great; the aging. If you make a lasagna, on the first night, it’s good. But when it sits in the refrigerator overnight, the next night, it’s fabulous. That’s because, cooks will tell you, time has had a chance to season all of the ingredients. I think the same is true with this story. Essentially, what makes this story exceptional is that both people followed the classical Greek story arc. Shon starts out bad and ends up good. The judge starts out sure and ends up not so sure. Both stories are on parallel tracks but invisible to each other. Only time can cause their paths to unexpectedly cross again.

Block asked the judge if he had anything to add to Shon’s revelation that he deserved what he got but that he worked hard to be a calmer, better person who could inspire others. The judge said no, because he said he could’nt “gild that lilly.” Beautifully said. I can only hope that I either stumble across stories like this, or be able to go deep into my craft and turn them into stories like this.

In this case, the art of journalism doesn’t imitate life … the art is life. To hear the full interview, go here –

Written by Interviewer

September 6, 2013 at 08:33

Posted in Scratchpad

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: