'White Boy Rick' thinks high-profile support hurt his chances for parole

DETROIT – In 1987, when Rick Wershe was 17-year-old and known on the streets as White Boy Rick, he was arrested on drug charges and sent to prison.

When he came up for parole in 2003, Kid Rock showed up at a parole hearing saying it was time to free Wershe.

"We had bumped into each other but we became more or less friends as I was locked up," Wershe said. "We had been talking and he said he was going to come down and speak on my behalf."

Kick Rock's support was supposed to help Wershe's case, but "White Boy Rick" says the Detroit rock star's image probably hurt his chances for parole.

"He was so high profile and it made it look like I was going to come out and live this rock star life, but that couldn't have been further form the truth," Wershe said. "He was like, 'Man, this is wrong.' The guy didn't come down there like because he is a rock star or rapper to say, 'Oh, drugs are OK,' or any of that. He just didn't believe in what has been done to me. He knew the truth."

Kid Rock no longer talks about it publicly and Wershe still worries his own White Boy Rick image is part of the reason he is still locked up.

He says that teenage persona is dead. What's left today is a middle-aged man named Richard Wershe.

"I definitely think the nickname White Boy Rick has a lot to do with it because if you ask people about Rick Wershe they don't know Rick Wershe, but if you say, 'White Boy Rick,' people act like they know who I am and they don't know me," he said.

One person who does know Rick Wershe better than anyone is his mother, Darlene McCormick.

"I just want to see him like I said and spend time with him before I die," McCormick said. "I just spend time in a room alone looking at a picture and saying prayers for him."

She doesn't understand how murderers and rapists who commit crimes as adults are routinely set free after 15 years -- while her son who was arrested at 17 of a nonviolent drug crime cannot come home after 27 years.

"He did deserve to go away for a while for what he did," she said. "It was wrong. Right is right and wrong is wrong, but not for as long as he has been in prison. It just doesn't seem right to me at all."

McCormick is not alone in that opinion. The United States Supreme Court has said the Eighth Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment requires juvenile offenders sentenced to life in prison for non-homicide crimes must have a meaningful chance to obtain parole.

If Wershe were arrested today he would do a maximum 11 years on the drug case and two more for helping a car theft ring from behind bars - and that does not account Wershe work as a police informant for three years as a teenager. He assisted authorities obtain over a dozen major convictions while he was behind bars.

The parole board has not given Wershe a hearing in the last 11 years and won't even discuss it before 2017.

"He has been sentenced to life in prison," said MDOC spokesman Chris Gautz. "And the Parole Board, after having considered all relevant facts and circumstances, has determined that paroling Mr. Wershe is not in the best interests of society and public safety."

Gov. Rick Snyder said he makes decision on parole requests largely based on the Parole Board's review.

Current Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy said Wershe deserves the sentence he was given.

The U.S. Attorney's office had no comment on the matter.

Rick Wershe's attorney said Michigan is not listening to the Supreme Court, so he has asked the federal court to force their hand.

"If they give me a hearing, I will bring in my people," he said. "My witnesses will testify as to why he should not be in prison, they're gonna have to bring in people to say why he should be denied consideration for parole."

While Wershe is fighting for parole in Michigan, Hollywood is making movies about the 14-year-old boy who took cash from the cops in exchange for tips about drug dealers, then turned into a drug dealer and car thief himself, and helping to bust dirty cops from behind bars.

Wershe wasn't paid for his story.

Instead, he sits in prison longer than any 17-year-old nonviolent criminal in Michigan history. He hopes the film will help Snyder or parole board to free him. However, at the same time he and his family worry the Hollywood image, like Kid Rock's support, could keep him locked up.

"It's a fight every day," he said. You have peaks and valleys. I have good days and bad days."

Production on the movie is set to begin this summer in Detroit.

There is no timetable for when the federal courts will make a decision.

You can see our full Rick Wershe series on the Defenders page.