I went to prison in 2013 and was released on May 7th, 2020.
The federal government called the indictment that sent me to prison “Operation Noah’s Ark.” I was sentenced to 120 months and ended up serving 80 months, 4 days (but who’s counting?).
Why does a small-town kid who graduates from college, and has plenty of opportunities, go into the drug game?
The short answer: I was seeking power and confidence, two things I had lacked my whole life.
Just like the drugs itself, I took a risk, tried something dangerous and I absolutely loved it. I guess you could say I found the power I was looking for, but I also felt free, loved, and respected.
I started running drugs from Minneapolis to Grand Forks, North Dakota in May 2009. I had failed at my first job out of college. I took my severance pay, bought some drugs from my college connections, and went up north to make some money.
I did make money, but it was so much more. I was meeting new people, having the time of my life, and everybody wanted to be my friend.
In 2010, a friend of mine got busted in Grand Forks. They caught him with everything: cocaine, ecstasy, weed, and pistols.
The ecstasy he’d bought from me, but I had covered my tracks since he hadn’t actually pick it up from me. I had it dropped off at a mutual friend’s house, who I’d begged to make the transaction for me pro-bono.
How did I convince him to do that since he was taking a risk and not getting paid for it? Easy. I promised him nothing was going to go wrong and if it did, he had my permission to tell the cops whatever they needed to know to get him off the hook. The raid happened the next day.
About a week later, I was on the phone with that mutual friend and he said, “Dude, my girlfriend’s hysterical, the cops are at my door asking about you, what do I do?”
I responded, “I already told you what to do, get yourself out of it.” And with that, “Operation Noah’s Ark” was born.
I didn’t think about it much. I knew sooner or later they would hear about me. I laid low for a while and made fewer trips up to Grand Forks. I was under the (incorrect) assumption that they needed to catch me red-handed in order to indict me.
By this time, I’d expanded my operation to Fargo, North Dakota; Alexandria and St Cloud, Minnesota with some clientele in Minneapolis. Things seemed to cool down. The feds were still asking about me, I was just hearing about it less.
In 2010 when my girlfriend, Dacotah, found out she was pregnant, we were living together, and she told me to pick between them and the drugs. I didn’t quit using or selling, so she moved in with her parents in East Grand Forks, Minnesota. My daughter, Melrose was born in February 2011 and it should have been the happiest time of my life but my drug use was getting out of control. Dacotah gave me one more chance to salvage our relationship. I hadn’t changed one bit, and when she left this time, it was for good.
In 2011, my life was going well on the surface. I was living in a beautiful apartment in downtown Minneapolis. I had a nice 2009 Acura TL. I had plenty of money to throw around. At the time a friend said, “I would say you have a problem (regarding my drug use), but looking around it looks like you’re doing pretty good for yourself.” She was absolutely correct. And my world was about to come apart.
The problem she was referring to was my crack cocaine use, which ended up being my Achilles heel. When I was on it, I became a different person, a shell of my former self. I cared about nothing else. My life and the people around me started to reflect this.
First was the raid in May of 2011, my drug use was at its peak, but I somehow wasn’t losing money. That changed the day my door was kicked in. The raid started a chain of bad choices and events that got me heavily in debt.
Just after the raid, another drug task force agent from Grand Forks called my mom. He had graduated from Roseau High School, my hometown, and played the role of a concerned citizen (either legally he couldn’t or strategically he didn’t want to tip her off to the investigation). He was working directly with federal agents and informed my mom that I had been raided in Minneapolis for suspicion of distributing cocaine.
I called him and told him he could talk to my lawyer. He said, “Great, can I get his number?” Since I didn’t have one, I stalled and told him I’d get it to him. I’m not sure if it was my drug use that numbed my concerns or I was simply this arrogant, thinking they couldn’t touch me, but I went on with my business as if the call never happened.
After the raid, I was sure I’d get evicted, so I moved into a house with some friends in St. Paul. I went back to painting at College Pro Painters. Over five summers with them, I had built a solid reputation for myself during college. I took on the Franchisee role and I was unreliable, inconsistent, and I was constantly lying about the business. Now addicted to drugs, it took me roughly four months to destroy my reputation and get fired.
My life was a mess. We often had crack dealers and dope fiends in the house. I wasn’t aware of my surroundings and I ended up showing the wrong guy, just how much drugs I had. He came back with some friends and robbed me at gunpoint for roughly $35,000 worth of drugs and money.
I ended up moving out of the St. Paul house after that and went back to my downtown apartment. A guy I thought was my friend set up a drug deal in Brooklyn Park. And when I say set up I mean literally, they took me for $5,000.
His friends pulled up behind us in a parking lot and turned on some cop lights, but they weren’t cops, and my so-called friend said he was going to run with the weed. I said, “Go ahead.” When the SUV with the cop lights took off and left me alone, I realized I just got jacked.
It wasn’t long after that and I got robbed again at gunpoint in a Motel 6 in Brooklyn Park and lost yet another $5,000.
By the end of 2011, I’d had enough. I stopped selling and moved to East Grand Forks to live with my daughter’s Grandpa. I got clean, sort of, really it was just an upgrade from my previous situation.
In reality, I was drinking almost every night, and once in a while, I would get high. But because I could actually function and work a job, and I was caught up on child support, I felt like I was getting my life together.
In East Grand Forks, I got a visit from the drug agent who’d called my mom and with him was the head federal agent. They wanted me to call the district attorney, strike a deal, and agree to cooperate. I took their card, thought about it, and decided to wait.
They told me, “It’s not a question of if we are going to indict you, it’s a question of when.”
As they were walking away I asked, “How much time do I have?”
“Could be a week, could be a month, or even a year.”
Two months later, I was working at American Crystal Sugar, and that’s the day the feds came. One of the bosses sat me down, the agents walked in and said, “Mr. Bergland, time’s up!”
I was arraigned and charged with Continuing Criminal Enterprise and money laundering. I was looking at 20 years minimum. Of those 20 years, I would have to serve just under 17.
I couldn’t do it. I was prepared to do 10 years, but there was no way in hell I was willing to do 17. I had no intention of going back to the drug game, so a couple of months after being indicted I decided to cooperate.
On July 10th, 2013, I was sentenced to 120 months in federal prison and a fine of $250,000 to the IRS. The judge was gracious enough to allow me to stay out for my sister’s wedding on August 30th, and I turned myself in at Milan Federal Correctional Institution in Michigan on September 3rd, 2013.
In the midst of the COVID crisis, I was released four months ahead of schedule, on May 7th, 2020.
I am now living with my mom and daughter, getting back on my feet, and running the resilience2reform platform.
MORE ABOUT NOAH’S STORY:
Two years ago while I was incarcerated I started sharing my story on construction2style, my sister’s original platform, back when we didn’t know where this experience would take us. If you are interested in reading more of my story, follow the links below.
The c2s visit to prison that started the idea of resilience2reform: a resource for at-risk youth, incarcerated people, and those who love them, families of active addicts, and the recovery community.
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