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

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. 

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. He’s also in Michigan, which is very inaccessible to me since I’m in Maryland. 

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. Ever since I was a kid, he was always asking about my accomplishments. 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. 

He must have been thrilled about law school?

Oh, my gosh, he could not have been any happier. Every time we got on the phone and there was a new acceptance he would be bouncing off the wall. I told him I got waitlisted at a school and I was breaking down crying. He was like, ‘Congratulations.’ I was like, ‘That’s horrible. You don’t want that.’ He was like, ‘But you didn’t get rejected.’ 

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. 

It also had an effect on me in the way that I view prisons and issues related to incarceration. For example, my dad is the perfect example of sentencing disparities. His charge was armed robbery. Here in Maryland, the maximum sentence for armed robbery is 25. In Michigan, the minimum that he’s serving is 25 years. I don’t know if that would have even crossed my mind if he wasn’t there.

You said earlier that you didn’t have a dad who was able to be present in your day-to-day life. Even though he’s your hype man, he can’t be there at milestones such as graduation. Is that something you’ve talked about with him? 

It’s difficult to grapple with because it’s something that he feels bad about. And on the other side, it’s something that I still feel a small amount of resentment about, especially considering the timing of things — I was already born when he was arrested. Now that I’m older, he’s talked to me more about why he did what he did and the trauma that led to him becoming addicted to drugs, which led to him committing the offense. 

I know that now and logically, if somebody put this story in front of me, I would see that this person was failed. He had trauma, he asked for help, and he wasn’t helped. But as his child, I still feel his absence really heavily.

When I was younger, I would be like, ‘Maybe he’ll be home, and everybody will surprise me with him.’ And of course, that never happened. And going on field trips with school when I was younger, my mom couldn’t go because she’s disabled. And he couldn’t be there for obvious reasons. So people would have their dads there. And that would hurt just a little bit more than seeing the moms. 

Whenever something goes wrong, he thinks, ‘Oh, if I was there, this wouldn’t have happened.’ And I’m like, ‘No, life does just tend to happen.’ 

But another thing is that sometimes he wants to try to parent me. Although I respect him as my dad, you can’t parent a 22-year-old, especially a 22-year-old that you haven’t raised. There’s always a temptation when something comes up to just be like, ‘Well, you weren’t there.’ But because I know that he feels so bad about that, I just kind of purse my lips and don’t say anything.  

So every time I feel the words forming in my mouth, then I just don’t because I’m like, ‘It’s not worth it.’ Once he gets out, we might have a different situation.

Do you ever feel like sometimes you shield him from what you’re really feeling?

Your time with this person has been limited by circumstances outside of both of your control. So you don’t want to start a conflict or say something that can hurt somebody. But every now and then it can be pretty hard, because I want to be honest, but I also know that we only have this 15-minute phone call. If something happens in the middle of some sour conversation, where I’ve said something awful, and then we have to go and I don’t hear from him for another week, that’s a really bad feeling. 

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.

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