Ray Duckler: Waiting for the future, with an eye on the past
Is it time, Judy MacDonald wonders, to start over?
She thinks about it, especially when visiting her husband at the state prison. She waits in a room with small lockers and rows of chairs, where a guard sits behind glass, sandwiched between a metal detector leading inside the prison, and an exit door that buzzes open when someone’s done visiting.
Her meetings with Scott Bergan, a convicted sex offender and thief, don’t occur as often as in the past, maybe once a month. MacDonald lives in Stoddard, so the ride is long. She works at Crotched Mountain Rehabilitation Center in Greenfield, so her responsibilities are great. And her husband has a long record of breaking the law, so her hopes for a stable marriage are fading.
“I’ve sort of come to the conclusion that maybe I need to move on,” MacDonald says. “I love him to death, but...”
Her voice trails off and the wondering about her future creeps back. She knows what people think, including her family, some of whom no longer speak to her.
Why, they ask? Why stay with a man convicted of sexual assault? Why stay with a man who used to steal things, then sell them?
MacDonald has been asking this question through her 10-year marriage. She says her work as a residential counselor at Crotched Mountain, where she sees people with mental illness all the time, helps her to understand, to see the other side. There’s always another side, right?
Take your medication, she knows, and the good part, the caring part, the funny part, surfaces. That’s the man she fell in love with so long ago.
Caring and funny.
“My family, because Scott is a registered sex offender, doesn’t really want me to have much to do with any of them,” MacDonald says. “I care about this person. He made a mistake. It’s really hard.”
Bergan’s latest arrest, for violating his parole after doing time for aggravated felonious sexual assault, has MacDonald’s thoughts moving in different directions.
“I’m torn,” she says. “I’ve asked for God’s help.”
They met around 1996, when MacDonald, 11 years older than her husband, worked in retail in downtown Concord. Bergan, who grew up in Penacook, was on disability at the time, for bipolar and obsessive compulsive disorders. Both had been married, both had kids and both were open to starting new lives with new people.
On medication, Bergan was a caring partner, MacDonald says. “He had a very good sense of humor. He makes me laugh. We just had fun. He was very good to me.”
That’s why, at the start, she looked past his record of burglary and false imprisonment and simple assault. She had had experience with mentally ill patients through work. She learned to judge people by how they treated her, not by the files that revealed their troubles.
Bergan had dark secrets, though, secrets he kept hidden from MacDonald. He’d been convicted of indecent exposure twice before their marriage, records show, and he was abused by a priest as a teenager, according to MacDonald.
The meds, though tapping into his potential for kindness, also made Bergan lethargic, unable to seek a job, so he stopped taking them. MacDonald, who worked at the state hospital for 12 years before joining Crotched Mountain, knew the symptoms associated with severe mental illness. She was familiar with the highs and lows of bipolar disorder, and she saw them in her husband.
“He was manic, grandiose, then depressed, up and down, good swing, bad swing,” MacDonald says. “If you’ve ever known anyone with bipolar, when they’re manic they talk a mile a minute.”
She supported him through several convictions, for theft and resisting arrest and violating his parole.
Then, eight years ago, Bergan was arrested for aggravated felonious sexual assault against a girl younger than 13. MacDonald says he slipped into a bathroom at the Holiday Inn and committed the crime.
Bergan served five years. MacDonald says that she understood why he had a problem, that his mental illness and the abuse he’d suffered could not be ignored. MacDonald says that in high school, a priest who was supposedly counseling him persuaded Bergan to masturbate while the priest watched.
But after serving his sentence, MacDonald says Bergan was doing well.
“Two years ago he was doing great in Manchester where he was living and working in a program they have for registered sex offenders,” MacDonald says. “I wanted him to go out and work on himself and prove to me he was going to work on himself. It was very good.”
More than three years since his release, Bergan has twice violated his parole, this last time, MacDonald says, for viewing internet porn. He landed back in prison last summer and his next parole hearing is in September.
Meanwhile, MacDonald is trying to live her life.
With her friends: “I’m very open with telling them,” she says. “They don’t know Scott. There are two sides to everybody.”
And with her family: “He has a daughter, but they’re not speaking because of him being a registered sex offender,” MacDonald says. “My family, I’ve had to stand up to them. One sister isn’t happy with my decision to stay with him, but she accepts me and we get along. My other two siblings don’t really have anything to do with me because of my decision to be with him.”
That decision is no longer firm. Not like it once was.
MacDonald now limits how often she visits the prison as she tries to return to normalcy. Once a month, she enters the prison’s main entrance, fills out a card identifying herself and her relationship with Bergan, then piles her belongings - cell phone, keys, jacket, handbag, everything - into a small locker.
She brings in quarters wrapped in a paper towel – never stacked in a coin wrapper, where contraband can be stashed - so she can buy Bergan snacks from the vending machine. Visitors can’t wear baggy clothing, another potential stash for illegal items, and wives and girlfriends can’t wear clothing deemed too revealing, like low-cut tops and skirts too far above the knee.
MacDonald gets the okay from Jeff Lyons, the corrections department’s public information officer, and moves through the metal detector before disappearing down a hallway. She returns two hours later through the locked door, the electronic buzz switched on by the guard behind the glass filling the room.
She and Bergan had played cards. They laughed. The future wasn’t addressed, but the subject has come up before.
“I’ve said to him that I’ll help him as much as I can, and I care about him,” MacDonald says. “But I don’t know whether I can stay married. That’s something I have to look at later, because. . .”
She pauses for five seconds, then finishes her thought.
“There are things missing in my life that I really deserve.”
(Ray Duckler can be reached at 369-3304 or email@example.com or on Twitter @rayduckler.)