Section 10: Achievement


With the Straight-A Guide, we recognize the importance of celebrating incremental achievements. This strategy of celebrating achievement sustains us as we advance from tiny, seemingly inconsequential steps toward our ultimate vision. When we’re on our way to success, we must recognize the importance of every incremental step that takes us from where we are to where we want to go. This strategy has launched extraordinary careers for many formerly incarcerated individuals. As an example, we offer the case of Shon Hopwood.

Shon served a decade inside a medium-security prison. When Shon began serving his sentence, no one in society would’ve expected him to succeed. He had been an armed bank robber and he abused drugs prior to confinement. Yet while serving his sentence, Shon studied and he developed an aptitude for the law. He became so skillful at writing appeals and legal briefs that his work resulted in several prisoners being released from unjust sentences.

When Shon concluded his sentence and returned to society, he faced significant challenges. The United States economy was suffering the greatest recession since the 1930s. People weren’t able to secure jobs in an economy with unemployment rates being higher than 10 percent. For the formerly incarcerated, unemployment rates were much higher.

Despite his struggles, Shon stayed true to his 100 percent commitment to living a law-abiding life. Shon persuaded a business owner that prepared legal briefs for the U.S. Supreme Court to hire him. Shon would’ve never qualified for that job if he had not studied the law while he served his prison sentence.

The proofreading job was only an entry-level position. Although the job didn’t pay much, Shon recognized the opportunity as a steppingstone to where he wanted to go. By working hard, Shon distinguished himself in the shop. Customers began to notice his proficiency and work product. One customer happened to be a law professor at a major university. Shon made such an impression on the law professor that the law professor notified an acquaintance who worked at The New York Times as a journalist. The journalist wrote a story about Shon.  That New York Times story led to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation granting Shon a full scholarship to attend law school at The University of Washington. Shon then leveraged that position into a clerkship for a federal judge. He later received a contract to write a book about his experience. We’re proud to call Shon a friend of The Michael G. Santos Foundation.

We can learn many important lessons from Shon’s story. Few people would’ve thought that a formerly incarcerated bank robber could transition into being hired as a clerk for a federal judge. Shon succeeded because he understood the incremental steps that would lead him from prisoner to the highest levels of a profession that he chose. To stay motivated along the way, he had to celebrate every achievement.

In the Straight-A Guide, we encourage our participants to learn from inspiring figures like Shon Hopwood. Anyone can become more than past bad decisions, but success requires us to sustain high levels of energy and discipline throughout the journey. We keep high levels of energy and discipline alive by celebrating incremental achievements, no matter how small.

  • Describe three incremental achievements you’ve made over the past year.

  • Share how those incremental achievements relate to the success that you aspire to create.

  • In what ways can you celebrate those achievements to sustain your level of energy and discipline to reach increasingly higher levels of success.