DETROIT – "White Boy" Rick Wershe could be just days away from becoming a free man after nearly 30 years behind bars, and he spoke exclusively with the Local 4 Defenders ahead of the parole board's decision.
By noon Friday, Wershe will know his fate after the 10-member parole board meets in private in the morning for a vote on whether to release Wershe or to keep him locked up. It's a decision the entire country is keeping an eye on.
For more than 29 years, Wershe has been locked up, and he said almost every day has been exactly like the one before it.
"A cell with a door about 22 hours a day," Wershe said. "We get an hour and 15 minutes of yard per day, and that's about it."
But on Friday morning, the Michigan Parole Board will vote on whether to release the state's longest serving nonviolent juvenile offender. The impending decision has caused sleepless nights for Wershe, who was arrested at age 17 on drug charges.
Now, 47 years old, Wershe needs six of the 10 board members to support his plea for freedom.
"I would say I'm cautiously optimistic," Wershe said. "I want to be overjoyed and overly optimistic about it, but at the same time, I want to be a little reserved and not get too excited about something that hasn't come to fruition yet."
Wershe's attorney, Ralph Musilli, said it's time for his client to be freed.
"Richard Wershe Jr. was never a major drug dealer," Musilli said. "Enough is enough. He's spent enough time for what he did. The proportionality is starting to overwhelm."
It's been a waiting game almost 30 years in the making. Wershe said he survives the time now just like he has from the beginning: with the encouragement of friends and family members.
"Without the family and the outside support I have, I don't know if I would be the person I am today," Wershe said. "I mean, they keep me up. They keep me going. They keep hope alive. They give me faith that things are going to turn out alright, and I just have to take it day by day."
He's received support from thousands of strangers who believe his ongoing incarceration is cruel and unjust.
"I mean, the people, I can't even thank everyone enough for all the letters of support I've received," Wershe said. "I try to answer them all back, but I can't, to be honest with you. But I appreciate every single one of them."
The parole board votes in Lansing, and a message will be sent immediately afterward to Oaks Correctional Facility, in Manistee, Michigan, where Wershe is housed. He will be notified first, and within minutes, a statewide media press release with the results of the vote will be issued.
If the parole board votes to release Wershe, the earliest he could get out would be in August. The Department of Corrections takes 30 days to make sure a parolee has an appropriate place to live and work.
Wershe also owes the state of Florida 22 months behind bars for his role in a car theft ring during imprisonment. His attorney will ask Florida to forgive the sentence due to Wershe's unusually long sentence in Michigan.