Family & Forgiveness | Noah Bergland

early prison life at Milan federal correctional institution, family time, prison pictures, inmate, incarcerated | Noah Bergland | Resilience2reform

Family is everything. That’s how I was raised but not how I acted. In my family, I got some things that I needed and wanted, and I didn’t get other things that I needed and wanted, just like most of us. I saw family as something I could manipulate. My family believed in family so much, I knew I could safely take them for granted, and they would help me as best they could. And they always have.

To me, my family was a system for me to work. I took advantage when I shouldn’t have and didn’t take advantage when I should have. They loved me the best they could and even when I didn’t deserve it. They shouldn’t have taken me back, but they did because that’s what family does.

Without my family, I would now be completely lost. I’m grateful for everything they’ve done, but I’m wondering how I lost them in the first place and, now, how we move forward together. 

My parents were rock solid. I was always safe and provided for. They ran a local restaurant where I earned extra money, I got a TV in my room at 13 years old, and they bought me my first vehicle when I was 16 1/2. When I left for college, they sent me off with everything paid for. When I made financial messes, they always cleaned up after me.

In some ways, I got more than I needed, and in others, I didn’t get enough. I didn’t have any place to share my feelings, fears, and insecurities. I didn’t know how to cope with them, and I didn’t know who to turn to. My brother was away at college. My sister was my sister (and at 16, she was still having me check her closet for monsters or serial rapists, so I wasn’t going to ask her). My dad was depressed. My mom was going through a mid-life crisis. They were tired, their restaurant had worn them down, and I had more feelings than I could manage.

Trust me, I know that this sounds pathetic. My parents paid my way through life. So what if they didn’t pay enough attention? From the perspective of a prison cell, though, I am looking at the whole picture. Something went wrong somewhere, and in order to move forward, I have to sort out what happened for me, what family means, and what my place is in it.

Maybe they did too much? I was spoiled. They kept bailing me out and paying for everything (just like I wanted them to). But I never learned to take care of myself. When it came time to sink or swim, I sank deep. I thought selling drugs was the perfect solution. But if my drug dealing was my vehicle to personal and financial success, I drove that car until the wheels fell off, went off a cliff, and exploded. 

I was the youngest of three kids, the spoiled baby, and my parents let things go that now I wish they hadn’t. They saw that I had girls sleeping over and found empty beer cans behind the bed stand. More than once, they picked me up, dead drunk, in the middle of the night from the cop shop. They got phone calls from other parents saying they didn’t want their kids hanging out with me. A furious neighbor reported that I had torn up their field and broke their front window.

I didn’t tell them that I got my second underage drinking violation and a theft charge within months of one another. They found that out in the court report. My siblings, Morgan and Jesse, didn’t do this stuff, so maybe they just didn’t know how to parent me through it. Maybe they didn’t know how to draw the line for me because family is everything. But looking back from here, I wish they had.

Over and over, I lied to my parents about money, about what I needed cash for. I’d ask for extra money for school or a bill when it was always for drugs and alcohol. In high school, I stole from my parents’ restaurant when I worked the cash register every Sunday. In college, I charged electronics, meal plans, and whatever I could at the U of M bookstore. I’d say I needed more and I would pocket the extra cash. When I first started treatment, I admitted all this to my mom as it was weighing on me heavily. I really wish I could have told my dad and come clean with both of them, but I have to trust he knows how sorry I am.

My family would have taken me in at my lowest point when I was in the depth of my addiction, but I was too proud to ask. I always thought I could figure it out on my own. I would sell drugs until I got some amount saved up, and then I would quit, but that amount was never enough. When I got into a hole of debt, and I said I would quit as soon as I could get out of it, but I always ended up digging the wrong way, and the hole just got deeper. So many people would have helped me get out, but even when I was scared and homeless, I was ashamed to ask.

When my drug connections cut me off, and I couldn’t afford to use, I finally decided to try to quit. My family took me back because family is everything. They let me paint their houses and referred me to their friends to paint for them. They were generous and included me, and they didn’t ask to be repaid. They told me they were proud of me. They didn’t treat me like I was a convicted felon who had disgraced them. And now, they have supported me throughout my incarceration. 

The guilt I used to feel about my family was once unbearable. Their willingness to love me through everything I did was almost more than I could stand. Part of treatment has been looking at the whole picture of my life with both clarity and compassion. As I’ve looked at our history together, I see that we were all doing the best we could at the time. They have forgiven me, and that made it possible for me to forgive myself. 

Thanks for listening,

Noah


My Story | Noah Bergland

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