The story of Richard “White Boy Rick” Wershe – allegedly recruited by his FBI informant father and imprisoned for life – is now being turned into a feature-length documentary
When I got out of prison in January of 2015 I had a lot on my mind. After doing 21 straight years in the netherworld of corruption and violence there was a lot I wanted to do and accomplish. One of them being getting Richard “White Boy Rick” Wershe, out of prison. Rick had a fucked up case. He was way over sentenced. Due to America’s misguided war on drugs, Rick is serving a life sentence for a non-violent drug offence, involving 8 kilos of cocaine, under Michigan’s 650 Lifer Law. In the 1980s anyone who was caught with over 650 grams of cocaine received a mandatory life sentence.
Rick was only 17-years-old when he was busted, still a juvenile, but in the eyes of the court that didn’t matter. When the crack era was in full swing, prosecutors were going after drug dealers with a vengeance. Especially “weight dealers” who were moving kilos of the white powder in inner-city neighbourhoods. Rick was the wrong person at the wrong time and he got hit hard. Almost 30 years later and he’s still in prison for that transgression. I’d written about his case for several news outlets and continued to shine a light on the details of his case in the hope that someone, anyone would take notice and right the travesty that was wrought against him.
When I first started corresponding with Rick around 2005 he was in the Michigan state prison system and I was in the federal Bureau of Prisons serving my own 25-year sentence for a first-time, non-violent offence. I’d heard about him in the federal prisons. He was a street legend from Detroit, an icon really, and I wrote stories about gangsters. I felt a kinship to him because we both came in the system young and had served a substantial amount of time.
We wrote back and forth, I sent him some of my Street Legends books, and he told me his story. They always say truth is stranger than fiction and in the case of Rick that is undoubtedly true. I’d heard rumours in prison that he was a rat, the most despised thing you can be labeled in prison, but when he told me the full story I was blown away. Recruited by the FBI at the age of 14, through his father who was a confidential informant, a federal narcotics task force turned Rick into a drug dealer so he could infiltrate some of Detroit’s biggest drug crews and gather intel. Before that, Rick had never touched drugs.
“Recruited by the FBI at the age of 14, through his father who was a confidential informant, a federal narcotics task force turned Rick into a drug dealer”
Abandoned by the feds after they made their case, Rick kept selling drugs, got busted and was given a life sentence about a year later. There were concerns about the FBI’s duplicity in using an underage informant coming to light and instead of pulling Rick in, debriefing him and helping him resume his life the task force just left him to his own devices. As a 16-year-old mesmerized by the money and power of the drug world Rick continued selling cocaine. And to cover up their mistake, higher ups in the Detroit law enforcement structure buried him in prison, hoping he would disappear and quietly fade away.
I continued writing about his case when I came home and one of my stories caught the attention of documentary filmmaker Shawn Rech whose film A Murder in the Park, got Alstory Simon – wrongfully convicted of a double murder – out of prison. Rech decided that Rick was the next person he wanted to target. He brought me onto his team and we started making plans for a film that would detail the injustices of Rick’s case. That was almost two years ago and on March 31, White Boy, debuts in Rick’s hometown of Detroit, with comparisons made to HBO’s The Wire, Netflix’s Narcos and Fox’s Empire.
I’d never made a film before, but I was a prolific writer and storyteller. It was just about changing my medium from words on paper to film. I jumped into the project with Rech, learning the tricks of the trade from him. We used my contacts to set up interviews with retired FBI agents, Rick’s lawyers and family members, other writers who covered Rick’s case, former drug dealers from the era and even a hitman. We even got Eastside drug lord Johnny Curry, who Rick was gathering info on for the feds that led to his conviction, to speak out on Rick’s behalf. Johnny Curry is out of prison, as is hitman Nathaniel “Boone” Craft, who was contracted to assassinate Rick. Craft claims that he was contracted by law enforcement to kill Rick because he knew a lot about corrupt cops in Detroit and they were scared he was going to get them busted.
“I was in prison. I know what its like and what Rick faces everyday. With all this attention, he’s been getting some action on his case and it’s looking more and more like he might finally get released”
With the documentary coming out, along with a scripted Hollywood film starring an unknown kid from Baltimore, the pressure is mounting on Michigan officials to do the right thing and finally parole Rick from his life sentence. The whole process has been rewarding in its own way for me because not only am I helping Rick get out, I’m learning the intricacies of making a documentary while advocating for justice. I was in prison. I know what it’s like and what Rick faces everyday. With all this attention, he’s been getting some action on his case and it’s looking more and more like he might finally get released later this year.
Thirty years in prison is long for any crime, but for eight kilos of cocaine it’s ridiculous. With the film coming to a major streaming network soon, more people will learn about the tragedy of Richard Wershe Jr.’s case and why corrupt law enforcement officials have conspired to keep him in prison. Rick remains apprehensive about his release and is not free until that gate opens, but this documentary will hopefully offer another perspective on the story of another person trapped by America’s justice system.