It’s been a while since I wrote about my little brother, Noah.
Last December, almost a year ago, I had asked Noah a couple of simple questions and got the best letter in the mail back and shared it with you guys here: A Letter From a Prisoner.
So now I wanted to share with you a letter he asked me to write to him.
One of his good buddies got married a few months back, and they made this giant cardboard cut-out of Noah’s head and were sharing it on social media. It had me laughing SOOOO hard. I shared the photo on our Instagram stories and the response of people sending me private DMs left me in tears. I quickly realized I don’t share enough about this part of my life and it’s a huge part.
I haven’t stopped thinking about these words from one stranger that I got a private message from,
“…I lost my 19-year-old cousin to drugs… It’s is a slippery slope. Love hard. As a 5th grade teacher who has to do a drug unit with my kids, I can only hope my personal story makes a difference. I always cry sharing it with the kids because it was/is awful and it should never have happened. We didn’t get lucky with our outcome. But being raw and honest is what we all need. Thanks for sharing your family’s story…thanks for using your platform to share things like that.”
I screenshot every message I received and shared them with Noah. I still find myself going back to those images…
My little brother is currently in prison for a 120-month sentence, but I can’t tell you how thankful I am that HE IS ALIVE and is currently physically and mentally healthy.
We’re actually off to make the long road trip to South Dakota to see him today. Me solo… with 2 toddlers…wish me luck!
Noah has given me a whole new perspective on life. This entire experience has changed me.
I mean…let’s be real, whenever I think I’m having a bad day, I think of him.
From missing every holiday with our family to not being able to grab himself a DQ ice cream cone, Jake’s pizza, get our Mom’s homemade potato salad, or Grandma’s lefsa, or simply put his favorite sweatpants or shoes on.
Can you imagine TEN years of wearing the same outfit, using only paper thin toilet paper and taking a shower where people are knocking on the door?!
I can do all that right now and so much more, so I remind myself not to take one day for granted, that’s for sure.
As soon as I saw those hilarious cut-outs and started getting these moving messages, I wanted to share it all with Noah, so I logged onto our federal monitored email system so I could tell him all about it.
To my surprise, I opened up to an unread note from Noah with this message:
I would like a victim impact letter for my drug treatment program. If you have time, could you put some thought into how my drug use and incarceration negatively affected our relationship and/or our family as a whole? You can discuss specific events like borrowing money or things you heard like I was selling drugs, and let me know how it made you feel. You can just write it on here or mail me a letter. Thank you.”
So in response to Noah’s request, I wanted to share with you guys my response back to him.
Sorry, it’s a little long…I’ve known this guy for 33 years and 5 of which he’s now been in prison.
Sorry this took me forever to write. This is really cool that you’re asking for this feedback. They’re probably going to be really hard for you to read, so as you read them, know that I love you and you have an insane amount of people rooting for you back home.
This took me forever to write because it’s something I don’t take lightly and think often.
You going into prison has changed my entire life and our family’s entire life including my boys’ lives and the way they are being raised and also the way I think daily.
It’s changed the way I’m raising your nephews, the way I make decisions faster, the way I pursue my dreams 100x quicker, the way I think about my own personal addictions, the way I now love harder, and brush things off easier and tolerate no-nonsense.
Thanks to you, I now have zero room for toxic energy.
So when you get out, and I’m a little short, you can thank yourself, haha!
While you were under investigation, to undergoing your trial, to days leading to incarceration, those two years sucked the life out of me and it still makes my stomach hurt thinking back to then. Whenever I got a phone call, I feared it was going to be the worst. It also made me angry for a long time that you lied and put me in uncomfortable situations when you needed money, like sending people money under false pretenses, but I also know that wasn’t you, and you weren’t in a good place.
I honestly don’t really care about any of the money we’ve given you, because to me, money is money, and I’ll always help any family.
It was two long years of who knew what was going to happen to you and our family and as the trial crept soooooo slllllooooooowly along, it never got easier.
I could hardly sleep at night because I feared that you might have wronged the wrong people and they were going to hurt me. Those nightmares still haunt me at times now.
This was also all going on during the time I got engaged and married, so this will forever be a part of that (which was supposed to be happy) memory. I don’t resent you for any of that. I am SO darn thankful that the judge said you could stay out until the day after your sister got married.
We even got family photos taken earlier.. “just in case.”
Which ended up being my favorite family photos!
Gift opening was basically your send off, but again one of my favorite last family photo…
Then when you were literally driving and checking yourself into prison, Jamie and I were headed to our honeymoon in Mexico. I turned my phone off to disconnect and was instantly sick to my stomach for the first two days and all I could think about was what you were going through. I turned it back on probably 50x a day to nothing. Later, I found out you were in the shu and couldn’t contact us for days to give any of us comfort, and from watching too many episodes of “Orange is the New Black, I always feared the worst.
On the positive (like you always are) I’m a different and better person. I love harder, deeper, and make changes fast because, after dad and now you, life is way too short.
Greyson visited his first prison when he came to see you at six weeks old. Six weeks! I made the drive with a newborn baby and your daughter to Detroit, Michigan. And… I had a c-section… I actually don’t even think I was supposed to be driving…Omgeeee…
Do you remember that?
I remember shaking so hard I couldn’t sign my name. Then they had to walk us in and out of three rooms where they locked us in and then opened us up to the next room again. Talk about being claustrophobic.
All I could remember was… bawling my eyes out and thinking… you are not dangerous and should not be here.
How did we let you end up here?
Then I will never forget when they told us we had to leave and taking Melrose with me, when she should have been with you. She was so little and so confused as to why she couldn’t stay with her daddy or even give you two hugs goodbye.
Then the guards made you, all the prisoners, stand against one wall while we stood against the other. And we all just starred and cried from across the room as they counted you off and we had to watch just how you’re treated like a prisoner, just a number. There was nothing we could do but stand and watch. I didn’t want to look at you because I was trying to keep it together as much as I could for Melly. All I remember was just firmly holding her tight. She was screaming for you and I couldn’t say one word because there were no words to explain to a 2 year old what was happening.
I never would have thought my kids would ever visit a prison and it’s now become their new normal. However, I love that I get to have honest and real conversations with Greyson already at four years old.
You’ve already been in five years, which is so crazy to me, and I’ve realized that’s exactly what you may have needed. I’ll never forget when you were sentenced and I thought all you need is three years tops. Now five years later, you have an entirely new perspective on life. My mind wonders to who you would be now if it would have been less.
Now as you’re going through this drug program, I can hear the difference in your tone and words. I’m so thankful you’ve had enough time to learn these things. Even the things I’m learning through you in this program make me really stop and think.
Your perspective on life gives me a whole other level of security about who you’ve become and what life will be like when you get out. I used to be nervous for that day, but I’m not anymore.
I’ve been counting down the days until you are released, but I’m also incredibly nervous because we’re all going to have to figure life out again. You doing drugs? Not one doubt. What I am nervous about is the previous relationships you had that are toxic, and that to me, is a bad drug.
Obviously, the thing that breaks my heart the most is watching Melrose live life without you. She needs her dad right now and you’re not here.
Little things like watching her go to hockey practices and how they’re encouraged to practice on their own during ice time and mom clearly doesn’t know how to skate and she’s out there alone trying to figure it out. Jesse and Jamie have both offered to step in and are doing the best they can at what they know how, but both don’t know the 1st thing about hockey, but you do.
This is one out of many firsts she had in her life that’s she’s figuring out how to do without her dad.
When I’m watching Jamie check her tire pressure on her new bike and making sure all her bolts are on tight, or watching him teach her how to ride a dirt bike, all I can think about is that it should have been you.
There’s been so many small, but big moments like this that we forget to share with you, or also don’t share because we want to keep your spirits lifted high.
Parenting is hard and it’s getting harder by the day the more they grow up. When you get out, Melrose has to have your 100% attention, just like mom has for you, you need to sacrifice your personal life for your girl. She needs to be the center of your world.
What makes me really mad and sad regularly is knowing you’re missing so many unforgettable memories right now, not just with Melrose, but your entire family, just over some really, really stupid decisions.
Even when we were saying goodbye to grandpa and grandmas’ and our childhood home, it was weird without you there.
I still constantly think back and think about what I could have done, but also know I tried and you were on your own path to destruction.
Life’s changed a lot since you went in. Like you not knowing even what Instagram is?! Not just life but technology is changing so fast. 10 years… your mind is going to be blown when you come back to us. You already know a lot of it because we talk, and your smart so you’ll adapt quick. But the biggest thing that bums me out is that people in my life now don’t know you.
I have to explain people to you. I shouldn’t have to explain.
I’ll be honest, I totally geek out and get so happy inside when people say… “you’re Jesse Bergland’s sister?!” Or visa versa when Jesse sends me a text of someone he met that knew me. It makes me so damn proud. And we owe that all to our family- starting from the top. They raised good human beings, that we’re all proud to be a family of.
And you are making us proud even inside those prison walls. My people just don’t personally know you.
Sometimes that’s what I think is what got you into the position that you’re in. You just want to please. But you pleased the wrong people.
Even in prison grandpa Bob, the former Secretary of Agriculture, is bragging about his grandson in prison. And that’s because he knows your true heart!
We’re so lucky, Noah. Our family has our support and back forever.
So when I do explain you to people I always say…he’s basically me, but a male version. Always smiling, looking at the bright side, working 24/7, our knees hit one-another when we walk, and we’re always laughing! As you’re sitting in prison, it’s also made me realize, that you’re a lot better than me. You ALWAYS have the best outlook on life, and I definitely know I couldn’t be doing what you’re doing right now and have that good of an attitude.
Did I ever tell you this story? I was walking out after saying goodbye to you when you were in prison in Detroit and this older gentleman walked up to me and hugged me and said…
“Was that your brother, Noah, in there?” I said yes, and he replied,
“He’s done amazing things for my son. At times I thought he wasn’t going to make it and Noah has always kept his spirits high.”
I will never forget that moment with that man, and I have no clue who his son was. But what I do know is that you’re changing lives in those walls, Noah, whether you think you are or not. I know your infectious personality and I know you smile at every guy you pass by.
Hope this and whoever you asked for letters from gives you comfort and helps you move forward. We can’t wait until the day we can just call you up and ask you to come over to watch the boys or simply watch football on the couch and make you dinner.
Love you SO much. And please don’t be stupid when you get out or you’re going to see the next level of a coo-coo sister.
P.s. Also I’m going through my 1st what was supposed to be Bergland Thanksgiving EVER without being at Grandma’s. Jackie, Ross, Mom, Britta, and, Jesse and us will all be together… but it’s just not the same without everyone and not being at grandma and grandpa’s home. I’m having a freaking meltdown. HOW HAVE YOU DONE THIS FOR 5 YEARS ALREADY?! Be ready to give me tips this weekend because otherwise I’m going to need to get to therapy ASAP.