Sunday, August 13, 2017

Rick Wershe is Afraid—He has Good Reason to Be



Last month, Richard J. Wershe, Jr., better known in the media as White Boy Rick, was at long last granted a parole from his Michigan life sentence for a non-violent drug conviction when he was a teenager. But he still has several years to serve in Florida in a car theft/fraud case where he pled guilty out of fear prosecutors would charge his mother and sister because they helped him in the car case. A Florida judge has turned down his petition for a three-day furlough which would allow Wershe to turn himself in. Now he must endure a potentially perilous trip to Florida on a private, for-profit prisoner transport bus. It could be the bus ride from hell.

Eight guys in a filthy caged bus. A bottle of water to drink each day. A fast-food sandwich three times a day, no place to urinate or defecate. No place to sleep. No meds, even if they are required. It would take too much time and time is money in the for-profit “extradition services” business. No stops for medical care. Rolling from one jail to another, picking up and dropping off prisoners, day and night. Some of the passengers aren’t even convicts. They are innocent-until-proven-guilty citizens who have been arrested in one place but wanted on charges in another place.

This is what Rick Wershe is facing in his transition from a prison in Michigan to a prison in Florida. Ever since his parole he’s been begging to be released on temporary furlough—three days—which would allow him to make his own way to Florida. A Florida judge has said, No. 

Rick knows what these transport services are like. He had to have an operation in Lansing a few years ago and he feared he would die. Not from the surgery. From the ride to and from the Lansing hospital.
The prisoner transport racket is one most Americans know nothing about. But it’s real, and it can be deadly.

The New York Times and the Marshall Project, a non-profit that encourages journalism about the many outrages and inequities of the criminal justice system, teamed on a harrowing, in-depth report on the prisoner transport business.

Michigan's Bridge magazine did a piece about horror stories in the Great Lakes State involving private prisoner vans.


This is the body of William Weintraub, a 47-year old former physics professor charged with making threats against a newspaper over an article he disputed. He died from a perforated ulcer. He had complained of stomach pain but his complaints were mocked and ignored by the transport crew. No charges were brought against the transport company. (Photo-Georgia Bureau of Investigation)


Prisoners riding in these rolling rat holes are regarded as sub-human. Their needs are inconsequential. They are bodies to be moved from A to B. The companies get paid between 75 cents and $1.50 per mile per prisoner. There's profit incentive to cram as many prisoners as possible in a single van.

Sanitation facilities are typically non-existent. Prisoners are told to pee in their empty water bottles. Some wind up defecating on the floor of the prisoner van or on themselves. There’s no time to stop for such things.

The transport crews take turns driving, often non-stop, 24-hours-a-day. Crew fatigue is common. So are collisions and accidents. Sometimes guards and prisoners get injured or killed. Hey. It’s the cost of doing business.


This prisoner van crashed in to a semi-trailer at 1:24 in the morning on a highway in Georgia. Two guards and a prisoner were killed. Investigators think the guard who was driving fell asleep at the wheel. (Photo: Greene County, GA. Sheriff's Office)



These shady operators keep getting contracts with state corrections departments and individual jails because they are cheaper than sending sheriff’s deputies to get prisoners who are behind bars in another state.

Twenty-six states, including Michigan and Florida, use these shabby, shoddy “extradition services” as a way of saving taxpayer money. If the inmate’s rights get abused, who cares? This is a nation that’s tough on crime, by golly.

These “corporations” that treat their cargo like scum get sued from time to time. When they lose in court, they just go out of business and pop up as a new corporation, a new bottom feeder of the criminal “justice” system.

It’s hard to say how long Rick Wershe will have to endure an “extradition services” ride.

One man in suburban Los Angeles was arrested for posting an “I Love You” note on Facebook to his 13-year old daughter in violation of a non-contact restraining order in a bitter divorce battle. In Florida. The judge in Florida wanted him returned to face the charge of violating the restraining order.

David Hastings was hauled eight-thousand miles in a zig-zag trip across 31 states for what should have been a 2,600-mile trip. He was wearing nothing but a white paper jail-issue jump suit with his hands and feet shackled. He shared a prisoner van with a total of 33 other prisoners over a period of 15 days. Hastings has a congenital heart condition. He charges he was denied his meds. He thought he was going to die in the van. He wasn't a convict. He was on his way to face charges.

The Florida Department of Corrections will negotiate with the private transport company on when they want Rick Wershe in a Florida lock-up. That will determine how long he will be on this trip through hell.

By the way, the notion of pleading with a Florida judge for mercy is a bitter joke. When Wershe was charged in the Florida case, the state attorney general’s office had a choice of a county where they could bring charges. They selected Martin County, about a hundred miles north of Miami, above West Palm Beach. It is the quintessential law-and-order jurisdiction.

In a conversation a while back, Rick told me the story of when he was brought to Martin County for arraignment on the car case charges. He was placed in the Martin County jail for his court appearance the next day. Rick says a friendly jail matron asked, “What are you in here for, honey?” He told her his story.

“Oh Honey!” she said. “They intend to hang your ass! That’s why they got you here! We got us a hangin’ bench in this county!”

The sympathetic matron didn’t mean hanging in the literal sense. She meant Rick was up against throw-the-book-at-‘em judges. 

In Martin County, Florida, the judges have a reputation for liking to punish people. It doesn’t matter who Rick Wershe has for a lawyer. He/she is not likely to find any mercy in a Martin County courtroom.

The ordeal of Richard J. Wershe, Jr. is not over yet.

  




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