When I was still in prison, I was excited about my release date of September 10, 2020, but I was also afraid that I might mess it up and get in trouble again. On the suggestion of my sponsor Dennis Cockerham, I wrote about what I thought would happen...and now I’m writing about what actually happened (and how the two lined up).
I get awkward when it’s time to say goodbye. This happened every time someone close to me left prison, like Nate, Kyle, Chris, and Ivan. Now it’s my time, and I’m hiding out in my room. But hiding is hard to do when you live in a unit with 250 people. They all know where you live. Generally, hiding spots are only big enough for a cell phone, workout supplements, or a rolled-up pornography magazine. Regardless, I’m doing my best to avoid as many conversations as possible. Everyone is happy for me, a big group of us cooked a meal last weekend to celebrate, and I’m ready to go.
This part didn’t go anywhere near as planned. One hundred and twenty-five days ahead of schedule, my name was called over the loudspeaker, “Noah Bergland, report to the Durand conference room.”
Two days later, while I was at work, they called me to R & D, where they receive and discharge inmates. They told me I was going back to the unit to pack up my stuff and then over to quarantine.
The only thing I got right was the hiding in my room part, but not because I wanted to, I had to. I found out that most people weren’t happy for me; they were f***ing pissed off because they wished it was them instead.
I was in my room getting the last of my stuff together, and Gucci, one of my roommates, comes up and says, “Hey, Noah, you might not want to go downstairs into the TV room. They are hating on you.”
I didn’t believe him, “Are you serious?”
“Ya, these guys don’t want anybody going home.”
I took his advice and stayed in my room until they called me to the front office. Anyone who wanted to say goodbye could come to find me and everyone that mattered to me did just that.
Unlike what I’d expected, there was no meal, no celebration, and very little happiness from my fellow inmates.
It’s Thursday, September 10th, 2020, at 8:00 am, and in the vehicle is my mom, sister, Auntie Anne, and Melrose. I have been told about the emotions around leaving prison, but once I experienced them, I knew there was nothing that could have prepared me for it. Seven years of built-up anxiety all released in 90 seconds. I once saw a Family Feud show, where the survey ranked getting out of jail or prison as the #1 happiest moments of your life, just above the birth of a child. At the time, I thought that was off, but I now know they were right. Then I had five hours in the car. My daughter asked me a million questions, and I did my best to answer them all. We also devised a plan for becoming YouTube stars. Last, of all, we talked about the activities we are going to do together; shooting baskets, ice skating, and attending a Taylor Swift concert, which she said would be “epic!”
My mom, my sister, and Melrose were all in the vehicle, but instead of Auntie Anne (only immediate family), it was my brother Jesse.
Also, instead of Thursday, September 10th, it was Wednesday, May 7th — a major improvement, in my opinion.
We all cried—every one of us. I cried, Morgan cried, Jesse cried, and Melrose even got emotional (but she also teased me for crying, haha).
The ride home was great: cuddles, pictures, reading comments from previous blog posts, talking to friends and family on the phone.
Melrose didn’t hit me with any heavy stuff, but over the past few weeks, she has asked me plenty of questions about who I am and what my childhood was like.
“Tell me a time when you were embarrassed.”
Even though there were plenty of age-inappropriate moments of embarrassment, I told her about the time I fell asleep in high school in the living room with only a towel on. Eventually, the towel fell off…and Auntie Morgan and Grandma came home.
“What’s the worst pain you ever went through?”
That would be when I dislocated my elbow in high school wrestling. The pain was so bad; I puked three-times getting to the ambulance.
As for the Taylor Swift concert, that will have to wait until after COVID-19.
I’m at the halfway house, and I’m enjoying every extra bit of my new found freedom. I’m working for my sister, so I’m just sleeping there. Within a couple of weeks, they say I’ll be able to start earning weekend passes, which will be nice. Melrose and I have plans to do some bike riding, shoot some hoops, and she wants to show me her room at Grandma’s. The rules here aren’t hard to follow, even though I think some of them are petty, I follow them anyway. Back in prison, I would get into arguments with people who are considering forfeiting their halfway house to stay in prison. They’re nuts! This isn’t so bad.
I only spent a total of two hours in the halfway house: doing paperwork, getting my ankle monitor put on, and waiting for my mom to come back for me.
Instead of staying at the halfway house, I went straight to home confinement, but the rules all came with me. They are more extreme than I realized. There is no extra freedom, not in the halfway house or on home confinement, not right away. Eventually, I will earn some, but I had assumed that I would no longer be in the BOP (Bureau of Prison) system, and I was wrong. Until March 8th, that is exactly where I am, and I have to follow their rules. I do think the rules are petty, but me thinking that doesn’t change a damn thing, it only makes things harder. The cold realization of my situation is a good example of the pain of making assumptions about what you think is going to happen.
I thought I was going to start work right away, but because of COVID-19, I can’t. That has been both a blessing and a curse. I get to spend so much more time with my family, but I can’t get out and into the world. I feel like I am still in prison, a much nicer prison, but still a prison.
And there were more rules: no smartphone, no social media, no working for Morgan and Jamie (my sister and her husband), no leaving the house, and I can’t for the life of me figure out how to set up a pre-paid flip phone. All these restrictions will be present until March 8th, when I’m released from home confinement.
Living with mom is awesome; we picked up right where we left off. I lived with my mom the year before I went to prison, while I was released on pre-trial in 2012-2013. Most people say that when they have to move back in with their parents, they treat them like they did when they were in high school – not my mom. I got the basement to myself, I got my Playstation 4, and I’m free to do whatever!
I was drinking a lot on pre-trial, so with that removed, things are going a lot smoother. She has projects for me to stay busy, and they allow me to help out around the house. I’m applying the knowledge that I’m learning from working with Jamie at construction2style and using it to fix up my mom’s house. She has had me paint the house inside and out, install new flooring, and now we are demoing the kitchen.
Living with mom has been great, and I was wrong; there are going to be moments where she does treat me like I’m in high school. But her roof, her rules. Not playing video games all day is one of those, but since my daughter is being homeschooled due to COVID-19, it’s an easy sacrifice!
The alcohol not being present has improved our living situation greatly. I don’t have to sneak around the house, avoiding conversations and isolating in my room. I’m not going to lie; day two of my release, I was ready to drink. It happened that fast. I thought certain things were guaranteed, and I found out within 36 hours that those were terrible expectations on my part. I got through it by leaning on my family, attending online support groups, and finding a sponsor who lives right down the street, and I can call anytime.
My mom did have projects waiting for me, mostly painting so far, and lawn care. As for the flooring and demo, those will have to wait, because I have not learned how to do them yet.
Then you have the blogs, www.construction2style.com and www.resilience2reform.com, one that Morgan has already built and one that we are currently building together. I have such high expectations for r2r that anything less than ending up on Oprah will be a failure.
The Residential Drug Abuse Program I was in would tell me that I am struggling with super optimism, that I am setting myself up for failure, and they are probably right, but that is just how strongly I feel about what we are creating.
Chris Warren is already making an impact; he has been working with my sister since January and clearing a path for the success of our work together. Now that I am released, I’m running the r2r site and letting Morgan focus on construction2style. She is also mentoring Chris and me as we continue our journey.
Chris and I are doing speaking events, writing content, making contacts, and building the brand.
Before you know it, Dennis and Mike will be out, and we will be ready to conquer the world together.
Right away, my work on the blog and r2r site was put on the chopping block. This would have been the biggest disappointment of them all, the biggest unmet expectation. I would have been devastated. Who knows? I may have said screw it: used, rebelled, and eventually gone back to prison.
I thought death in my immediate family would be the only thing that would drive me back to that life, but once I realized I might not be able to write for the next 10 months, those thoughts were going through my head all the same.
It didn’t happen that way, thank God. My case manager said she would give me a chance because it sounded therapeutic. But she also reminded me that if I abuse it, it will be taken away. “Thank you,” I said, “You won’t regret it.”
As for Oprah and public speaking and appearances, those will all have to wait.
I was wrong about Chris, he has over-exceeded any expectation. Both my sister and I will attest to that. Dennis and Mike are going strong, they are keeping in touch with Morgan and sending content.
Then you have friends, old and new ones. I seem to always keep the bad ones around and push the good ones away. I’m not doing that anymore. A couple of old acquaintances reached out after my release, but I was ready for that. I told them to meet me at my Narcotics Anonymous (NA) meeting, Tuesday night at 8 pm. They never showed up. As for the ones who have been supportive throughout my incarceration, they’re still here, as they always have been.
This one is very interesting to read now. Some of it went as expected: Kevin, Lars, Gavin, Frank, and Sam all have made contact or come to visit. The ones I can’t see until March 8th because of travel restrictions, Nate and Kyle, understand and are not trying to force anything.
The old, negative acquaintances that I don’t want back in my life, have not reached out.
The ones that caught me by surprise were the old, positive acquaintances that don’t want me back in their lives. I wasn’t ready for half of them not to respond. I thought they would be pumped to have me back, and the response would be, “Let’s get to together, or when can I come over?” Nope, radio silence.
I said in a previous post, that some people are going to sit back and see what version of Noah comes out. I said it, but I wasn’t ready for it to actually happen. It hurt, but it’s fair, I have to earn that trust back. So let’s go!
Our editor Susan, my Buddhist Auntie, says that nothing is guaranteed. And so far, what has tripped me up has been my thoughts about what I was “sure” of and my expectations. Nothing in life is guaranteed, I know that now. Instead of saying, “I got this!” I have replaced it with “Together, we’ll figure it out!”