White Boy Rick clears first hurdle to freedom after 29 years in prison

Richard Wershe Jr., aka White Boy Rick

Richard Wershe Jr., aka White Boy Rick, has been languishing in federal prison for 29 years for selling large quantities of cocaine in Detroit in the late 1980s.

That could change after a 10-member parole board today finally granted the 47-year-old a public hearing for his possible release. The hearing will be held in Lansing in the next 30 to 45 days. 

Arrested when he was only 17, Wershe was sentenced to life in prison under stiff federal guidelines for so-called drug kingpins.

While Wershe wasted away in prison, people who committed first-degree murder and other heinous crimes served less time.

“I just want a second chance,” Wershe told me in one of a number of prison interviews in 2010. “I was young and dumb. I’m not the same person. I’ve been cooperative and respectful. I just want to have some semblance of a life.”

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Wershe has grown frustrated with the parole board, which denied his release 2003, 2007 and 2012.

Wershe didn’t help his case when he became involved in a stolen-car scheme in prison, which led to him being convicted and sentenced to five years in prison in 2006. If he is granted release, he may return to prison on the racketeering charges from 2006.

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Wershe told me he learned about the drug trade from the FBI, which began using him as a secret informant when he was 14.

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“I was a stupid kid. I didn’t know what I was doing,” Wershe told me.

Steve Neavling

Steve Neavling lives and works in Detroit as an investigative journalist. His stories have uncovered corruption, led to arrests and reforms and prompted FBI investigations.