Rex Hammond is a thoughtful, amicable criminology graduate student with a sharp sense of humor and an easy smile. He is a diligent worker, a lover of Shakespeare, and a talented artist. Hammond has also spent 25 years in prison.
“My first crime was committed with my older brother at the age of 9,” Hammond said. He grew up in a small town, with two parents who both had jobs. His older brother was involved in crime and drugs and served as a major influence early in Hammond’s life. “As we age and mature, our decisions are based on response habits. … The more I partook in deviant behavior as a youngster, the easier it was for me to make these same decisions when confronted with risky behavior later in life.”
In 1996, when Hammond was 32, he committed a string of eight armed robberies that would eventually send him to prison for 13 years. Prior to this, Hammond had already spent 12 years in prison and two years in juvenile detention. It was behind bars where he first discovered the Purposeful Living Units Serve program. PLUS is an Indiana-based program which attempts to provide inmates with the necessary skills and attitude to succeed in life outside of prison.
“I entered the program in 2006 and became one of the first 50 graduates in the state,” Hammond said. He admits that his first reason for enrolling in PLUS wasn’t for the learning experience. “The other dorms were a crazy, turmoil(-filled) place to live and the thought of living in a more respectful, quiet area of the prison enticed me,” said Hammond. “ … However, while participating in this program, I began to think even more about my choices and my life.”
After graduating from PLUS, Hammond became a mentor to more than 100 men enrolled in the program. He was released in 2009, but he still had multiple trials to overcome. Over the next three years, he became homeless three times. In 2010, Hammond lost his brother to suicide. His mother died of cancer about a year later.
“It was after mom’s passing that I took a year to collect my thoughts and figure out what I wanted to do,” said Hammond. He ultimately decided to return to college to complete his bachelor’s degree, having already earned an associate’s degree in prison.
“It was through my college education that I first began to utilize critical thinking skills that began to alter my behavior,” said Hammond. “I met some great professors in prison who engaged me to think outside the box — particularly Dr. Laura Bates and Dave Kelty.”
Hammond completed his bachelor’s degree in May 2013, after which he applied to graduate school and was accepted. At ISU, he worked as a teaching assistant and as a distance-learning writing consultant with the Math and Writing Center. He also served as a guest speaker for students every semester. He has been accepted into a doctoral program in criminology at Washington State University and hopes to become a professor.
When asked what advice he could provide to students who want to be successful, Hammond pointed to a small, handwritten sign above his desk that reads, “You’re going to move to the area you focus your attention.”
“Apply yourself,” Hammond said. “When we apply ourselves to negative aspects of life, then the chance of being surrounded by negative features greatly increases. Success to me is being the best that you can be at any given moment.”
Hammond is not a man defined by his past. Rather, he has allowed his experiences to be a tool for helping others by sharing his wisdom with those struggling to find their way. He has destroyed the bars that once confined his life and is now setting new goals — ones that he will undoubtedly achieve.