DETROIT – While "White Boy" Rick Wershe anxiously awaits Friday's parole board decision on his potential release, another legal battle is beginning a thousand miles away.
As it stands, if Wershe is released in Michigan, he would go directly to a prison in Florida to serve another 22 months for a crime he committed behind bars.
His attorney is trying to have the crime forgiven, since Wershe has spent more than 29 years in prison for drugs and car theft. Attorney Ralph Musilli said Wershe should have been out several years ago, but unless he can convince Florida lawmakers to give his client a break, a Florida prison will be Wershe's next stop.
Wershe has been described as a model prisoner during his time behind bars, with one major exception. He pleaded guilty 11 years ago to racketeering and conspiracy to move stolen cars in Florida.
"I introduced somebody," Wershe said. "My sister was given $6,000, and that is the extent of it."
During a previous interview, Wershe said it was an easy decision because his plea spared his mother and sister, who bought cars.
"I was told, 'You take a plea bargain, or I'm going to arrest your mom and your sister,'" Wershe said. "So what did I do? I took a plea bargain against my attorney's wishes."
Wershe was sentenced to five years to be served after his release in Michigan. He still owes 22 months to the state of Florida after credit for his time served, but Musilli is going to ask Florida officials to change the sentence to concurrent instead of consecutive, which would mean his time in Michigan prison would count for the time owed in Florida.
"The prosecutors down there don't seem to have a big problem with it, so we again are cautiously optimistic," Musilli said.
It's a deal Martin County, Florida, State Attorney Bruce Colton and State Attorney General Pam Bondi would have to sign off on, because they won't be formally asked in court motions until after the Michigan parole board's decision. They have not commented publicly about the case.
"I don't want to be in prison any longer," Wershe said. "I've been in here more than enough time, but if Florida wants me, I've got to man up, and I'll go."
Wershe helped police and prosecutors extensively from behind bars, providing information that landed dozens of drug dealers and dirty cops in prison. The parole board and Florida officials will also take that into consideration.
Wershe 'cautiously optimistic' about parole board vote
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."
"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.