Just the beginning

Prison Education Project alumni Jim Brock and Kevin Hammerschmidt on the journey to Commencement

Jim Brock’s path to Commencement started with a flyer.

In 2014, the Washington University Prison Education Project (PEP) began conducting classes at the Missouri Eastern Correctional Center in Pacific, Missouri. Brock, who’d recently been transferred to the facility, spotted a call for applications. 

Brock was intrigued. The only problem? The deadline was two days away. A boss gave him the afternoon to work on it. “I’d never written an essay before,” Brock says with a shake of the head. 

Brock soon was accepted and became a PEP mainstay, taking classes in everything from classical literature to public speaking and landscape architecture. He earned his associate’s degree in 2019 and, since his release last fall, has continued his studies through University College. Earlier this year, he joined the PEP staff as alumni coordinator for its reentry program.

In this video, Brock and fellow PEP alumnus Kevin Hammerschmidt, both of whom earned bachelor’s degrees at this year’s Commencement, reflect on their journeys, the work required and how they’ve reshaped their lives. 

“I don’t look at this as an ending,” Hammerschmidt says of graduation. “It’s just the beginning.”

For more information about the Washington University Prison Education Project, visit prisonedproject.wustl.edu.

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