Sunday, September 10, 2017

No, Rick is NOT in Florida

Followers of the misadventures of Rick Wershe are aware he was on his way to Florida to serve more prison time in an auto theft and fraud case after Michigan authorities granted him a parole from his life sentence. He had served nearly 30 years of a life prison sentence for possession of cocaine in a non-violent case that began when he was 17. Is Rick Wershe in harm’s way regarding Hurricane Irma? The answer is, no.

Richard J. Wershe, Jr. is not in Florida.

He’s not in any danger from a hurricane. He is in another state, not in the path of the hurricane, sitting in a federal lock-up, awaiting transport to Florida when it’s safe.

Wershe is in the custody of the U.S. Marshal’s service. Transporting prisoners to and from courts is one the agency’s primary duties. This includes moving them from prison to prison. 

Rick Wershe is a state prisoner and states needing to move an inmate can contract with private, for-profit ground transport services or they can contract, on a prisoner-by-prisoner basis, with the U.S. Marshal’s Service. That’s what Florida has done in the Rick Wershe case.

For Wershe, all things considered, his situation is much better than it might have been.

Wershe was released from Michigan custody to the custody of U.S. Marshals on August 22nd. That same day he was transported to the federal prison in Milan, Michigan, outside Ann Arbor, where he was housed for over a week.

Wershe is, of course, a high-profile prisoner due to all the publicity surrounding his case and the movie that’s being made about his story. For his safety, Wershe was held in an isolation unit. His lawyer, Ralph Musilli, got to visit with him for an hour or so. Rick reported he was well-treated. He also appreciated the “upgrade” in food. Federal prisons generally have better food service than state prisons. This is particularly true regarding Florida.

After his stay in Milan, Wershe was flown to another state to await another flight to Florida. He was flown aboard a passenger aircraft that is part of a fleet known as Con Air. That’s short for Convict Air, which is a civilian nickname for what is formally known as the Justice Prisoner and Alien Transportation system, or JPATS. The transport service was featured in a 1997 Nicolas Cage action movie. The plane used in the movie is not part of the JPATS fleet. Con Air sounds cooler than JPATS, but the U.S. government isn't known for cool names.

This is one of the prisoner transport aircraft in the JPATS fleet. Rick Wershe, Jr. may travel to Florida aboard a plane like this one. (Photo: U.S. Marshal's Service)

Flying, as opposed to bouncing around endlessly in a prisoner van, is much more humane and much-preferred. Wershe was flown from Michigan to another state, where he is housed in another federal prison awaiting a second flight to Florida. He may be there awhile.

The State of Florida spent much of last week scrambling to move state prison inmates from at-risk lockups to safer, more secure prisons. As of the weekend, Florida had evacuated 31 of its 143 prisons. It is doubtful Florida will be accepting transport prisoners any time soon.

No matter where Wershe is housed, every day since August 22nd counts as time served toward his Florida sentence. The food and facilities are generally much better in the federal prison system as opposed to state prisons, so for Rick Wershe, sitting in a federal prison awaiting transfer to Florida is not a bad deal.

Still, this process requires some adjustment. Rick is now housed in a cell with two other inmates. In Michigan, he had a private cell for years. He has reported the other inmates are nice young men.

Wershe’s arrival in Florida is up to Mother Nature. Con Air will fly to Florida when it’s safe. In the meantime, he is doing alright—and waiting out the storm.

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