For a moment, Simms and the 113 RCI academic and vocational graduates stood on common ground.
Simms took the post in October after a distinguished career as the Baltimore City State's Attorney, head of the Department of Juvenile Justice and a stint in the U.S. Attorney's office.
"Education served me well and allowed me to serve," Simms told the graduates.
He said when he learned that more than 100 men were graduating Friday, he knew he had to be there.
"I'm here to recruit you to fight in a different kind of war," Simms said. "There's hope. It's difficult, but there's hope."
RCI Warden Joseph Sacchet described rehabilitation as occurring in the mind.
"These educational/vocational programs afford you a rehabilitation vehicle and all you have to do it get on it," Sacchet said.
Inmate Paul Diven got on board, despite a serious hearing impairment that requires two hearing aids and vision problems that mandated large-print materials and even tests.
Russell Duckworth said he'd been away from school so long he was afraid it was too late for him.
"It was hard at first but now I can see the possibilities,'' the inmate said.
Getting his diploma changed Keith Walker's life. "I made a goal out of it," he said.
Like Simms, Vincent also came from East Baltimore. At RCI for the past 17 months, he hopes to be going home the first of next year.
"My mom cried when I called her on the telephone to say I was graduating," Vincent said.
When he goes home, he plans to enroll in community college with a goal of letting education change his life.