Sunday, July 16, 2017

Rick Wershe’s Next Big Challenge—Life on the Outside

In a unanimous decision, the 10-member Michigan Parole Board voted on Friday to grant parole to Richard J. Wershe, Jr., Michigan’s longest-serving prisoner for a non-violent drug offense committed when he was a juvenile. He has served 29-and-a-half years of a life sentence. He may have to do some time in Florida for an old auto theft fraud case before he tastes freedom, but sooner or later Wershe will face another big challenge: Life on the outside.

The world has changed since Rick Wershe was last a part of it.

Rick Wershe’s many supporters—and there are many—have rightfully been celebrating since the Michigan Parole Board finally decided to deliver some long overdue justice. Wershe has served far more time than truly big-time drug dealers and drug-world hitmen, guys who kill people for money. All of them do ten or twelve years and they’re out. 

As Informant America has reported many times over the last two years, Rick Wershe was a political prisoner. He was recruited as an FBI informant at age 14 and he became too good at it. He became known in the media as White Boy Rick. He told the FBI about the drug corruption of politically-connected and politically-powerful people in Detroit and Wayne County. Those people fought to keep Wershe in prison until he dies. This is covered in a piece I wrote for The Daily Beast.

All of that is over now. He could taste the fresh air of freedom as soon as the middle of August. This, by the way, is the normal process. If the Parole Board votes to give an inmate parole, the inmate doesn’t pack up and check out the same day. A parole officer must be assigned and that parole officer is required to investigate what Rick Wershe intends to do on the outside, where he intends to live, and with whom. The parole officer must interview the people Rick Wershe will live with and impress upon them the importance of not having any firearms in the same house, and certainly no drugs. All of this takes time. We’re talking about a bureaucracy, after all. For an inmate who has been granted a parole, all that matters is that vote by the Board. A few more weeks is nothing.

Rick Wershe has a case in Florida hanging over his head, and it may mean another delay in his release, but that will be addressed in another blog post.

For now, let us consider this: when he gets out, Rick Wershe faces a whole new set of challenges. He’s going to have to learn how to live on the outside. He’s been in prison his entire adult life. He’s never been a free adult. Think about that. Think about the adjustment he is going to have to make. The “system” has no mechanism to help him with that. He will be on his own. It is hoped that his many supporters will help him with that, too. That’s what this blog post will explore.

The first thing for Wershe’s family and friends to know is this: he needs protection. I'm not talking about protection from the criminals he knew in the past. I’m talking about hustlers and hucksters who hope to make a fast buck off of him.

Here’s an example: on Friday, after the news of his parole broke, some guy called Ralph Musilli, Wershe’s attorney, and wanted to start a business selling their autographs. Really. There are going to be all kinds like that coming out of the woodwork. They will try to track him down and pester him with crackpot ideas on how to make money off his notoriety.

Don’t get me wrong. Rick Wershe can take care of himself. He has spent three decades in the prison system. But the sheer volume of nut jobs and opportunists who see dollar signs when they see his name may be a bit much for even a street-savvy guy like Wershe. He has several job offers awaiting him and the last thing he needs is one of these creeps showing up at his job with a scheme to make money off the White Boy Rick legend.

Rick Wershe is going to face a world very different from the one he knew in 1988. When he went behind bars, Ronald Reagan was President. Gulf War I and Gulf War II hadn’t happened yet. Neither had the war in Afghanistan. Neither had the presidency of Bill Clinton. No one knew who Monica Lewinsky was. No one had heard the President referred to as Dubya. No one had ever heard of Barack Obama.

There were still phone booths on many street corners. Internet Web browsers and search engines hadn’t been invented yet. No one had ever heard of Google, Amazon or Netflix. Fox News was non-existent in 1988. Talent-challenged Kim Kardashian was not yet famous for being famous.

Rick Wershe certainly knows about all these things. He’s been in prison but not in solitary confinement. Still, the man became an adult in prison. He’s never had to cope with the day to day bullshit the rest of us accept as normal. People who consider themselves his friends can do a lot by helping him make the transition to life, a whole new life, on the outside. As he said last week when talking about his legendary past, White Boy Rick is dead.

This morning (Sunday, July 16th) I received an email from Rick Wershe that I think needs to be shared with his family, friends and supporters. Communication with him is challenging and slow, so I haven’t asked his permission to share this. But under the circumstances, I’m going to bet Rick won’t mind if I let all of you know what he had to say.

A couple of notes about this email:

The “Mr. Eagen” he refers to is Michael Eagen, the chair of the Michigan Parole Board. Eagen took the unusual step of personally interviewing Rick at length one-to-one last February. At the end of that interview Eagen told Rick he handled himself well and indicated he was favorably impressed. It gave Rick his first dose of optimism about the system in three decades.

His reference to Judge Hathaway is Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Dana Hathaway, who took over the Wershe case after his original trial judge retired. Judge Hathaway had the courage to take a second look at the Rick Wershe case and she concluded that, under current law, his sentence should be revised to essentially time-served. Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy threw a fit and fought it all the way to the Michigan Supreme Court, which cravenly refused to review the matter. That left Wershe in limbo. 

Ironically, that cowardly decision by Michigan's highest court seemed to energize and motivate many people to demand justice. Suddenly, the Wershe case became politically HOT. Kym Worthy, facing considerable heat, moved to 'no position' and didn't object to parole. We saw the end result in the Parole Board vote this past Friday.

What follows is Rick Wershe's email to me verbatim:

Hey Vince yes WOW it feels so surreal it hasn't sunk in yet!!! 10 my way!

Mr Eagen has restored my faith that there are still good honest people in the system. Everything he told me he did!!! That has never happened to me in 30 years!!! I am at a loss for words at how highly I think of him!!! If I could see him I would just say thank you and I will never let you down! He's right up there with how highly I think of Judge Hathaway!!!
Man, Vince, this shit is finally over! And the stars are finally shining on me! I am just so happy!
Thank you and everyone else who helped expose their lies and cover-ups along the way!!!
Take care, all the best!!!

Rick makes a good point. Michael Eagen did the right thing in a system that has done the wrong thing for a long, long time. He deserves credit for it. All supporters of Rick should consider sending Eagen a short note thanking him for standing up for what is right and finally delivering justice in the Richard Wershe case. Guys like Eagen don’t get thanked very often. Here’s how to contact him:

Michael Eagen
Michigan Parole Board
Michigan Department of Corrections
PO Box 30003
Lansing, Michigan 48909

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