DETROIT – "White Boy" Rick Wershe can pack his bags and prepare for a long road trip to Florida prison after waiving an extradition hearing and being cleared to close out his 29 years behind bars in Michigan.
Wershe, who spent nearly three decades behind bars as a nonviolent drug offender, appeared in a northern Michigan courtroom Wednesday for a hearing that closed out his Michigan prison term and allowed him to be turned over to the Florida Department of Corrections.
The hearing only lasted five minutes. Wershe had the option to allow Florida's authorities to take him into custody, or waive extradition and begin the process of moving into the Florida prison system. He decided to waive the extradition.
Wershe took a rare trip outside the walls of the Oaks Correction Facility to go in front of a judge.
Wershe said he pleaded guilty to participating in a car-theft ring in order to spare his sister and mother from being charged. Now, it's time for him to go to Florida and serve the remainder of his sentence for that guilty plea.
"You don't know what's in store," Wershe said. "It doesn't really scare me. You have your thoughts and what it's going to be like."
It's unclear how much time Wershe will serve in a Florida prison. He was recently given a document showing he is being awarded 40 days of good time. His release date is listed as pending.
If Wershe serves all his time, it could be a little more than two and a half years, but he will also be eligible to ask for release through clemency in as little as a few months. Wershe said he will stay positive and do everything he can to gain early release.
"I have to deal with it, and whatever it is, that's what I'm going to do," Wershe said.
Wershe was the longest-service nonviolent juvenile offender in Michigan history. Arrested at 17 years old for drug offenses, he was locked up until age 48. In a few days, Wershe will close out that record-setting sentence and get into a van headed for Florida.
Why does Wershe owe time in Florida?
Wershe was granted parole after a hearing with the Michigan Parole Board this year, but true freedom could still be two or three years away.
While he was in a Michigan prison 11 years ago, Wershe introduced his sister, Dawn, to a car salesman. It turned into a stolen car ring, and Wershe pleaded guilty to protect his sister and mother from criminal charges.
"They said, 'Listen, this is what we're going to do. If you don't take this plea, we are going to arrest your mom and your sister,'" Wershe said. "It was a forced plea. I don't agree I committed the crime that I was convicted of."
Now that Wershe will be freed in Michigan, it's time to pay the price in Florida. Last week, Wershe's attorney asked the Florida court for a furlough to turn himself in, which would save Florida money and give Wershe 36 hours of freedom before service his time.
"The court is of the firm opinion that no such authority exists," a judge said in a written order. "Even if the matter were discretionary with the court, the court will not grant this furlough request after a review of the merits. There is no need for further argument."
Wershe dreads transport to Florida
As it stands, Wershe will walk out of a Michigan prison and into a prison transport van. Wershe's attorney argued they are dangerous and inhumane, as Wershe has made the trip to Florida by prison van once before.
"It's hell on wheels," Wershe said. "I was on one for a week, and it's the most traumatic part of almost 30 years in prison."
Before the trip, Wershe will have an extradition hearing in Michigan. It's a formality, as Florida will show it has the right to take him. Wershe said he's not planning to fight the extradition.
Wershe's time since being paroled last month doesn't county for the time he still owes in Florida. That time doesn't start counting down until Florida picks him up. Even though he is dreading the transport process, Wershe said he wants to start as soon as possible.