Sunday, October 8, 2017

Rick Wershe sent to his Florida ‘place of residence’

The State of Florida has finally figured out where to imprison Richard “White Boy Rick” Wershe to serve his time in his auto fraud/theft case, committed while he was in a Florida federal Witness Security prison. In July, the Michigan Parole Board granted him parole after nearly 30 years in prison for a non-violent drug crime from his teen years. He’s now in a state prison in Northern Florida.

The Columbia Correctional Institution is a Florida state prison in Lake City, about 50 miles west of Jacksonville. It is to be home for Richard J. Wershe, Jr. for the foreseeable future. Due to his background and notorious reputation as an FBI informant, he is in what Florida officials call a “protective management” unit.
Wershe has not been happy since his arrival in Florida several weeks ago. More on that to follow.

Rick Wershe's Florida inmate photo (Photo: Florida Dept. of Corrections)

He was granted parole in Michigan on July 18th, but Florida had a “hold” on him, so he remained in the Oaks Correctional Facility in Manistee until arrangements could be made to transport him. That took bureaucratic time. He dodged one nightmare when Florida arranged to have the U.S. Marshal’s Service move him, instead of using a dreaded private, for-profit prison van transport service.

It took several weeks but Rick Wershe got to Florida by way of the federal prison in Milan, Michigan and a county jail in Oklahoma City as a slow-service passenger aboard “Con Air.” That's the nickname for the Marshal’s Service air transport wing. The Marshal’s service will fly an inmate from A to B, but any given prisoner might lay over in a lockup in between for a week or so as the air service shuffles inmates to maximize the number of passengers aboard each flight of Con Air.

Wershe was able to dodge Hurricane Irma. He was in Oklahoma City when it struck. When he arrived in Florida, he was taken to an intake and medical facility for “evaluation.” 

Florida officials knew Wershe was somewhat notorious and that he had helped the FBI put a number of criminals in prison. They decided to protect him. Their effort to protect him made him miserable. They put him in “lockdown”, which is what most people on the outside would regard as solitary confinement. In prison, lockdown is usually regarded as heavy-duty punishment.

Rick Wershe is a people person. He’s gregarious. He talks to people. Sometimes, too much for his own good. In lockdown, he was isolated from the other inmates.

Now he’s been assigned to a “protective management unit” at the Columbia Correctional prison which is between Jacksonville and Tallahassee, near where Interstates 75 and 10 intersect. It’s in the small town of Lake City, population about two thousand. One of the features of Lake City is Alligator Lake Park. The prison is east of town, adjacent to the Osceola National Forest, known for swamps, alligators and poisonous snakes.   

Presumably, Wershe will be able to mingle with other inmates who turned informant or with convicted police officers, judges and other public officials who might be at risk in the general prison population.

Aerial view of Florida's Columbia Correctional Institution (Photo: Google Maps)

Florida’s Colombia Correctional Institution is not a “country club” prison. Far from it. Florida’s prisons are badly understaffed and underfunded. Tensions are high in many prisons. At Columbia, a mentally ill inmate was found dead under mysterious circumstances in 2016, a day after a corrections officer had been stabbed. The year before, two guards were fired and charged with brutality against inmates.

Florida St. Rep. David Richardson found conditions at the prison where Rick Wershe is incarcerated "horrific."

Florida State Representative David Richardson of Miami is what you might call a one-man advocate for improved prison conditions in Florida. Last December he visited Columbia, Rick Wershe’s new “home” and the legislator declared the conditions were “horrific—unfit for human habitation.” Richardson had visited 60 Florida prisons and talked with hundreds of inmates.

He found toilets that malfunctioned, and no hot water for inmates to make instant soup or coffee they had purchased at the prison canteen. 

“People might think this is no big deal — so you can’t make a cup of coffee — but it’s the little things that tend to be causation of unrest and riots,” Richardson told the Miami Herald. “It can be the coffee one day, then the showers and they all build up until the next thing you’ve got is a riot situation.”

How long will Rick Wershe be in this place? That’s not yet clear. It’s possible he could be there two years, but there are “good time” calculations that could make his time in Columbia shorter. And there is a slim chance he might be considered by clemency by Florida's law-and-order governor. For Rick Wershe, whatever his release date, it can’t be soon enough.

If you want to send Rick Wershe a card, note or letter, here is the address. Be sure to include his inmate number in the address:

Mr. Richard J. Wershe, Jr.
No. K70365
Columbia Correctional Institution

216 SE Corrections Way, Lake City, FL 32025

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