Wershe was released from a Florida prison in July, ending his 32 years behind bars that started after a drug trafficking arrest at 17 years old in 1987. He became the longest-serving nonviolent juvenile offender in Michigan history.
“I can tell you this, I have more peace in my life now than I’ve ever had,” he told the Daily Mail. “I have been made to feel welcome and accepted. I wasn’t sure it would be that way. But a lot of people seem to feel and see I had a rough deal. I go to pay for a meal, and someone recognizes me as ‘White Boy Rick,’ and they say, ‘‘I got this.‘”
Wershe is now engaged to his longtime girlfriend. He is working to enjoy the life he never had due to his conviction as a teenager, but he’s still wondering why he had to spend so much time in prison.
“You tell me how it’s right that I served 32 years for a non-violent crime and someone who has raped or killed walks free in a few years,” he told the Daily Mail. “Did I do something wrong? Absolutely. But where is the equity in a system that puts non-violent criminals away while killers walk free?”
How Wershe ended up behind bars for so long
In 1988, Wershe was sentenced to life in prison in Michigan under the state’s “650-Lifer Law,” a drug statute that penalized those found in possession of more than 650 grams of cocaine or heroin with a stiff penalty of life imprisonment without parole.
Wershe earned his parole in 2017 after nearly 30 years in prison. He was released from the Oaks Correctional Facility in Michigan in April 2017 and turned over to U.S. Marshals.
He was then transferred to a Florida prison because of a crime he committed while behind bars in Michigan. Wershe pleaded guilty in 2006 to being involved in a car theft ring.
Why did Wershe owe time in Florida?
While he was in prison, 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."
When he was released from prison in Michigan in 2017, Wershe walked out of the prison and right into a prison transport van. Wershe’s attorney argued the vans are dangerous and inhumane, as Wershe had 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."
Even though he was dreading the transport process, Wershe said he wanted to start as soon as possible. He was looking forward to taking another step toward his final release.
Detroit-based organized crime historian and true crime author Scott Burnstein said the end of Wershe’s decades-long sentence is “way overdue.”
“Today is a great day for truth, a great day for justice, a great day for vindication,” Burnstein said when Wershe was released in July 2020.
The author and historian has kept in touch with Wershe over the years and has studied his case extensively. Burstein even served as a consultant for the “White Boy Rick” film.
The true crime author believes that Wershe was jailed for an unjust length of time, especially considering the fact that he was groomed by the government at such an early age.
“Contrary to popular belief, Rick was not brought down on a kingpin statute, ... racketeering, ... (or) a continuing criminal enterprise statute -- Rick was arrested when he was 17 years old at a routine traffic stop where they found cocaine,” Burnstein said. “Under the law at that time, it was supposed to cost him the rest of his life, which is just ridiculous.
In September 2018, Local 4 shared a special documentary report on the life of Wershe, the now infamous figure in Detroit’s drug scene in the 1980s. Watch the full documentary here to learn the story of “White Boy Rick.”
‘White Boy Rick’ the Hollywood film
A film based on his life titled “White Boy Rick” was released Sept. 14, 2018. Matthew McConaughey starred as Richard’s father, Richard Wershe Sr.