2010-02-17 / Front & Center

From corrections officer to warden

David Bergh returns to manage Thumb Correctional Facility after starting career in Lapeer

LAPEER — David Bergh started his 24- year career with the Michigan Dept. of Corrections in Lapeer, and after serving in numerous capacities across the state if he’s lucky will be able to retire from the department here as well.

Bergh, 54, was named warden of the Thumb Correctional Facility on John Conley Drive in December, the latest assignment in a career that has taken him to his hometown of Newberry in the Upper Peninsula to Standish in northern Michigan and to Jackson, and many points in between. He also worked for General Motors Corp. for several years before he returned to the Dept. of Corrections.

“Even though I wasn’t raised here, this is like coming home. I’m very happy to be here in Lapeer. This is where I met my wife, so I know this community very well,” said Bergh, who is essentially the CEO of a small city that is the Thumb Correctional Facility, a Level II prison that houses all male inmates. Currently TCF hold upwards of 1,200 prisoners and is at full capacity.

Michigan prisons are categorized into different security levels. They range from secure Level I facility, which houses prisoners who are more easily managed within the network (even though they may have committed violent crimes). At the other end of the spectrum is the state’s Level V prisons, which house prisoners who pose maximum management problems, are a maximum security risk, or both.

Bergh began his career as a corrections officer at TCF in 1988, one year after the sprawling complex opened in 1987. He worked there for two years. During that time he also participated in the reserve program with the Lapeer Police Dept., then supervised by Todd Alexander, who is now the city’s police chief.

Bergh applied for the open position vacated when the last warden, Millicent Warren, left to serve as warden at the Women’s Huron Valley Correctional Facility in Ypsilanti. Bergh, together with Deputy Warden Lori Gidley, oversee more than 300 employees who staff and operate TCF.

The State of Michigan operates nearly 40 prisons at an annual cost of $1.9 billion, according to the Michigan Office of the State Budget. TCF has the unique distinction and importance within the corrections community as being the only facility in the state to house youthful male offenders ages 13 to 21. Currently, said Bergh, TCF is holding 439 youthful offenders, 227 from Wayne County alone.

Some of the youths are in for crimes as serious as murder and were convicted and are serving sentences the same as adults. The youths will serve in two housing units for youthful offenders at TCF, and upon reaching adult age will be transferred to one of four housing units for adult offenders.

Perimeter security includes triple 12- foot fences with razor-ribbon wire, towers, electronic perimeter detection systems and a perimeter vehicle with armed personnel.

Other buildings include the prison services building, which has academic and vocational classrooms, libraries, a barber shop, a food service building for prisoner and staff dining, health care area, warehouse and maintenance areas. There is an administrative building for staff offices, records, visiting, staff training, hearings and the institution’s control center. Michigan State Industries has a building where it provides industrial laundry services for state and other nonprofit agencies.

Prisoners can involve themselves in academic, vocational and religious programming. Prisoner work programs include the prison’s laundry. Treatment programs include substance-abuse counseling, group therapy, clubs and organizations.

Prisoners are provided on-site medical and dental care by a staff of in-house doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals.

“It’s a shame when it’s a better environment for most of the guys in here than they had on the outside. The services provided to them are far more than anything most of them ever saw, especially the health care,” said Bergh. “Prisons by their very nature are very structured and orderly. That’s something most of the offenders didn’t have before, and why many turned to gangs.”

Bergh said TCF houses many “lifers,” but he is optimistic through intervention programs conducted by TCF staff that some of the youthful offenders can get the help to steer them away from a life of crime.

“We have a lot of success stories here in a very difficult environment. That’s what gives me hope sometimes when I think of all the men that are in here for very serious and often violent crimes,” said Bergh.

Among one of TCF’s more notable inmates was Jack Kevorkian, the Pontiac native who in 1998 was sentenced to 10-25 years in prison, but was paroled in 2007 in failing health and nearing his own death. Kevorkian, dubbed “Dr. Death” is a former medical pathologist known for his highprofile activities in support of voluntary euthanasia.

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