Mick Guile, a 2023 graduate of Temple University. Photo courtesy of Mick Guile.

A biweekly newsletter about the future of postsecondary education in prisons. Written by Open Campus national reporter Charlotte West.

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A biweekly newsletter about the future of postsecondary education in prisons. By Charlotte West.

Short on time? Here are the highlights:

  • Mick Guile, a first-year law student, explains the complications of navigating a parental relationship in 15-minute phone calls, and how family incarceration impacted their choice of careers.
  • Historian Heather Ann Thompson filed a federal lawsuit against the Illinois Department of Corrections in 2018 after it rejected her book on the Attica prison riot. The department approved the book as part of a settlement reached last fall. In March, her publisher sent a copy of the book to all prison libraries in the state. Published by our partner WBEZ.
  • The Education Writers Association nominated Open Campus national reporter Charlotte West as a finalist for its 2023 beat reporting category for her coverage of higher ed in prison.
  • Get the Jan/Feb 2024 print edition of College Inside here.
  • ICYMI: Georgia State University is shutting down the prison education program it’s operated since 2016, citing federal government rules for the return of Pell Grants as a primary reason for its decision.

‘My number-one hype man’

Mick Guile is a first-year law student studying at the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law in Baltimore. As an undergraduate at Temple University, she received a scholarship from ScholarCHIPS, a nonprofit organization that supports the children of incarcerated parents. Guile graduated from Temple with a degree in criminal justice in 2023, inspired by growing up with a father who is incarcerated. 

Guile, who uses she/they pronouns, explained the complications of navigating a parental relationship in 15-minute phone calls, and how family incarceration impacted their choice of careers. They last saw their dad, who is in prison in Michigan, during senior year of high school. 

ScholarCHIPS is currently accepting applications from high school seniors and college students with incarcerated parents. To learn more please www.scholarchipsfund.org. The application deadline is April 15.

This conversation has been lightly edited for length and clarity. 

Q: How has having an incarcerated parent impacted you and your educational journey? 

A: Me and my dad were very lucky that my mother, despite their ups and downs, made sure that we stayed in contact with each other. My father has been incarcerated since 2002. Since I was 1, so basically, my whole life. His earliest release is in 2027 and max release is in 2052.

I don’t want to say ‘surprisingly’ because I don’t want it to be a standard that children of incarcerated parents don’t succeed, but he’s been one of my biggest motivators. He’s been my number one hype man. Sometimes we’ll just be talking and he’ll get excited about nothing. I’ll be talking about something that I saw on the news, and he’ll be like ‘My baby girl was so smart. She’s so intelligent.’ 

As I got older, I was able to have conversations with him about history, politics, things like that. That encouraged me to get as much knowledge as I could. It really was a way for me to connect with my dad and also get praise from him. All kids want to be praised by their parents. I still do and I’m not even a kid anymore. 

When you were younger, did you ever feel like people lowered their expectations for you if they knew that your father was in prison?

I think it has a lot to do with where you grow up. I was talking to another ScholarCHIPS recipient. She grew up in the suburbs, so her parent being incarcerated, it was a shock. But where I grew up was a majority Black county, and unfortunately, Black people make up a large proportion of the justice system. So nobody was really shocked. It was more like pity. I don’t want to say people lowered their expectations for me, but it’s more like they started to be a lot more amazed with whatever I was doing. 

I didn’t start thinking about it that deeply until recently, thanks to law school. At the time, I might have a little thing in the back of my mind that’s like, ‘What does that mean?’ But I would just naturally take a compliment. But now I feel like…don’t temper your expectations for me. Don’t pity me, just be happy for me. 

Has your father’s incarceration impacted how you approached your criminal justice major and now law school? You have some unique insights into the way in which the system functions.

It definitely impacted what I want to do when I graduate. I want to go into criminal law. And if you’re going to criminal law, there’s two places you can go: defense or prosecution. Prosecution was immediately out of the question for me. 

I’m a Black person. That just doesn’t feel right. And I had a professor who said, ‘Would you rather there be no Black people in the prosecutor’s office? Would you rather it be all white people doing this job?’ 

I thought about it for a while, but then I just kept thinking about my dad. I would like to become a judge one day, but that also puts me in the same position where the time would probably come where I would have to say, ‘Yeah, take that guy away.’ Just thinking that there might be a kid like me who wouldn’t have a parent because of that is a little troubling. 

What would you say to all the parents on the inside?

I brag about my dad, even though I know where he is. And I know that he’s working to better himself while he’s in there. I know that resources are limited, but as much as you can, improve yourself and become somebody that your kid can brag about.

Read the full interview here.

Every prison library in Illinois is getting a copy of a book about the Attica prison riot

When Pulitzer Prize-winning author Heather Ann Thompson sent a copy of her 2016 book “Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising and Its Legacy” to three people locked up in Illinois prisons, two of the three copies were rejected because of security concerns.

So she sued.

Last year, the Illinois Department of Corrections settled the 2018 federal lawsuit by agreeing to approve “Blood in the Water”. Thompson’s publisher sent “Blood in the Water” to all prison libraries across Illinois in March.

“Blood in the Water,” which won the 2017 Pulitzer Prize, details the deadly uprising at Attica, a men’s maximum security prison in upstate New York, on Sept. 9, 1971. The rioting men were demanding better living conditions and political rights. New York started offering higher education in prison in the mid-1970s partly in response to the riot.

Read the rest of the story here.

Update: Percell Dansberry has been waiting five years to read “Blood in the Water.” Dansberry, who is currently incarcerated at Lawrence Correctional Facility, was one of the individuals who had a copy of book rejected in 2018. He had not received the book following the settlement, so last month Thompson sent him a copy.

He initially received a notice that the book had once again been forwarded to the prison publication review committee, he wrote in an email to Open Campus. But on Tuesday, he finally received “Blood in the Water.”

“Last night…the publication review officer pulled up on my cage and delivered the book!” he wrote. “I’m super enthusiastic to read it after all these years.”

News & views

Check out 5 BLOCK, a new film that digs into the healing journey of Jose Flores, a student currently incarcerated at California State Prison.

The latest federal budget earmarks almost $9 million for prison education programs, Katherine Knott reports for Inside Higher Ed. Some colleges turned to the earmark process to secure funding to expand their programs. The five colleges receiving federal dollars include $4.5 million for Bard College, $1.6 million for Morehouse College, $1.5 million for Chaminade University in Hawaii, $963,000 for Georgetown University, and $355,000 for Goucher College. 

Ithaka S+R published a new report, ”Between Two Systems: Navigating Censorship and Self-Censorship in Higher Education in Prisons.” The findings highlight how the need to preserve the relationship with corrections agencies often leads prison educators to self-censor. 

The Journal of Intellectual Freedom and Privacy just published an issue, “Access to Information in Carceral Settings.” The issue includes an article on the censorship issues related to the distribution of “The Sentences that Create Us”, a book about writing behind bars.

In March, the New York’s Department of Corrections and Community Supervision announced their plans to institute a system-wide lockdown on April 8 as a safety precaution during the eclipse. Six incarcerated people are now suing the state, alleging that the corrections department is violating their constitutional right to exercise their religion by preventing them from viewing the rare event. The next total solar eclipse won’t occur in the United States for another twenty years.

Shireen Hamza writes about teaching the global history of science in a class at Stateville Correctional Center in Illinois. 

Alexander X, an incarcerated student in Emerson College’s prison education program, compares his experience as a college freshman in 2001 with returning to the classroom after years behind bars. Inquest republished the chapter he wrote for ”Education Behind the Wall: Why and How We Teach College in Prison.”

Free tablets in prisons come at a high price, writes Valerie Surrett. The Appeal published an excerpt of Surrett’s chapter in ”Books Through Bars: Stories from the Prison Books Movement.”

Previously incarcerated individuals are 5% more likely to start their own business, compared with the general public, according to research from the University of Pennsylvania. For Black men who have been incarcerated, entrepreneurship leads to higher incomes than traditional employment.

The University of Utah Prison Education Project is expanding its programs to include a bachelor’s degree for incarcerated women at the Utah State Correctional Facility. 

Kevin Light-Roth, a writer in Washington state, writes about the challenges of getting a bachelor’s degree inside for The Hill. “To continue my education, the only option was correspondence courses — which don’t sound so bad at first,” he writes. “You picture yourself writing long, eloquent letters with a quill pen.”

Let’s connect

Please connect if you have story ideas or just want to share your experience with prison education programs as a student or educator. You can always reach me at charlotte@opencampusmedia.org or on TwitterLinkedIn, or Instagram. To reach me via snail mail, you can write to: Open Campus, 2460 17th Avenue #1015, Santa Cruz, CA 95062.

We know that not everyone has access to email, so if you’d like to have a print copy College Inside sent to an incarcerated friend or family member, you can sign them up here. We also publish the PDFs of our print newsletter on the Open Campus website.

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Open Campus national reporter covering the future of postsecondary education in prison.