Two months ago, Nelson Hopkins Sr. began writing apology letters in his northwest Missouri prison cell.
He doesn’t have access to computers. Working with pen and paper, he apologized — to his victims of his June 2011 Blue Springs pizza store robbery, to the detectives who questioned him, even to the mayor of Blue Springs.
“I am apologizing for my criminal actions, for compromising the public safety,” Hopkins said recently inside the Crossroads Correctional Center in Cameron, Mo.
“I am apologizing to my family and my friends for the disappointment I caused them.”
He has, Hopkins insisted, plenty to apologize for.
To many, he once represented the model ex-offender.
Twice previously convicted of robbery charges, Hopkins had won acclaim for reinventing himself as a community justice entrepreneur, helping inmates prepare their own parole plans — as long as they demonstrated to him that they were sincere. The Persian Gulf War veteran also had founded Operation Promise Land, a nonprofit emphasizing citizenship, working out of office space provided by Rockhurst University.
City leaders and candidates sought his counsel on reducing crime.
But all that came crashing down on June 14, 2011.
After advocating alternatives to violence, he committed a clumsy example of the same robberies that twice before had landed him in prison cells.
As described by Timothy Yasso, assistant Jackson County prosecutor during Hopkins’ sentencing hearing the following year, “The exact same type of violence he is trying to stop or was trying to stop is the same violent crime he then committed.”
Hopkins now is offering a general public apology — the apology, he says, that a Jackson County Circuit Court judge didn’t allow him to make during his April 2012 sentencing hearing. Because the judge failed to grant him allocution, he said, he is appealing his conviction following guilty pleas to two counts of second-degree robbery as a prior and persistent offender.
He received 20-year sentences on both counts, running concurrently.
“I broke the trust that so many had placed in me and my efforts in the community,” Hopkins, now 43, has written.
But many of those same trusting friends, he says, didn’t know what he was battling. That included post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms for which he had received treatment from the Department of Veterans Affairs after his release from a Missouri prison in 2007.
That also included the Dec. 1, 2009, murder of his son, Nelson Hopkins Jr., 17, who died after being shot while walking home near 54th Street and Lydia Avenue, a college application in his pocket.
It’s all part of why, Hopkins said, he entered the Blue Springs pizza delivery outlet carrying what appeared to be a handgun.