Can Hollywood Free White Boy Rick?

Richard "White Boy Rick" Wershe is an iconic figure straight out of the 1980s Detroit crack era. His legend as a drug dealer far outstrips the truth of his situation. He has spent the last 28 years in prison due to that notoriety, an infamy that has ignited Hollywood movie interest, but his time inside might be over soon.

The story of White Boy Rick has gone viral this past week with major news agencies like ABC, CNN, FOX and Yahoo running headlines about his resentencing, which is scheduled for September 18. A date when he will have the chance to possibly go home after having served 28 years in prison for a non-violent drug offense under Michigan’s draconian "650-lifer law," which has since been wiped from the books. Great news for all his supporters and the numerous writers who have covered his story and been outraged at the injustice of his case. But this resentencing is just the latest stage in his story. It was earlier this year that Richard “White Boy Rick” Wershe’s profile made a splash on the national forum when several Hollywood movie heavyweights took an interest in his story—a key determining factor in the most recent decisions affecting his case and chance for freedom.

The first studio to enter the fray was Universal Pictures, which optioned the rights to The Trials of White Boy Rick, an Atavist feature and 50-page eBook written by Evan Hughes in late 2014. Oblivion and Tron: Legacy director Joseph Kosinski and Ted producer Scott Stuber are attached to helm the film which follows the true life story of White Boy Rick as he became an undercover informant for the FBI at the age of 14 and infiltrated the deadly inner-city underworld of 1980s' crack-era Detroit, becoming a street star in the city and notable player in the drug game in the process, while still a teenager. But Universal is not alone in their desire to make the biopic.

Studio 8, a Sony Pictures outfit headed by Jeff Robinov, also acquired a script from Logan and Noah Miller in early 2015 with the Oscar-winning producer of Birdman, John Lesher attached. Their version of White Boy Rick is inspired by Wershe’s story and the writers even flew out to visit Rick in prison before securing their deal with Studio 8. A casting call looking for a young Detroit native to play White Boy Rick was held in Detroit on May 2, and the film was scheduled to start shooting this fall.

The final entry in the White Boy Rick movie sweepstakes is the only one that has actually received his blessing. Darren Aronofsky and Scott Franklin of Protozoa Pictures, who made The Wrestler and Black Swan, reached an agreement with Wershe to tell his story. Andrew Weiss wrote the script for the Protozoa Pictures entry with input from Rick himself. With all the hoopla and Hollywood interest, The Fix got with Richard Wershe to see what he thinks concerning all the interest in his story.

“Hopefully, the movie can get done,” Rick says from a prison-monitored phone at the Oaks Correctional Facility in Manistee, Michigan. “Scott Franklin and Darren Aronofsky, I think, are the right people to do it. I think that will put a tremendous amount of pressure on people because they are trying to tell the true story. They are trying to show, wait a minute, he was a kid and the government got him involved and used him and basically exploited him as a child and lied about it for 25 years.”

White Boy Rick’s tale is very well known and has been bandied about in the media for years, including reporting from The Fix numerous times, but still he sits in prison with a life sentence for eight kilos of cocaine. The media has run headline after headline calling him a "drug lord," "kingpin" and even "cocaine cowboy" but Rick sits in prison, the only offender convicted as a juvenile under the lifer law still serving a life sentence; something the Supreme Court declared unconstitutional years ago. But now finally, hopefully, he will get out.

“This whole thing has been a travesty since day one,” Ralph Musilli, Rick’s lawyer says. “I only wish that I had been the trial attorney at the time that he went to jail because he was set up. When they arrested him, he didn’t have any drugs on him. He went over to a meeting with the DEA because they called him and he showed up because they called him. They told him, 'You’re under arrest,' and he was like, 'For what?' And they said because he had drugs in his car, but he didn’t have drugs in his car. They supposedly found drugs a block away behind somebody else's house and they said, 'That's yours. We’re sticking it on you.'”

The case is full of holes, but the coverup has been even worse, as law enforcement officials denied cultivating Rick as an informant due to his juvenile status. But the movie interest has finally led to Rick getting his day in court.

“They lied about it at my parole hearing in 2003,” Rick tells The Fix. “On the record, they said this never happened. If it did happen, these agents would have been disciplined or prosecuted and no one stood up and said this shit did happen. I hope the movie does come to life and show what they did to me and what is being done to me to this day.” Twenty-eight years is a long time for anyone to serve, especially a non-violent offender who was working as an informant, but Rick deals with it.

“I’ve come to grips that it is what it is and I have to deal with it day-by-day,” Rick says. “But I don’t know how a lot of these people can get up and look in the mirror everyday and get up everyday and claim that honesty and integrity is everything in the justice system—then why are you still keeping me in prison? And you let rapists and murderers and child molesters free.” 

This isn’t the first time there’s been movie interest in Rick’s case. Eminem and Kid Rock were both rumored to be interested in the mid-2000s when Rick was still in the Federal Witness Protection Program for his testimony against dirty Detroit police officers and officials.

“When he was down in Florida, that was 2005, I was trying a case in Tampa at the time and I got contacted by Kid Rock,” Musilli tells The Fix. “He was trying to attach his name to White Boy Rick to give him street cred. They contacted me in Tampa and said, 'Rick’s in trouble and this is going on and can you get involved.'” The lawyer didn’t know Wershe, but got involved and has been involved, representing him to this day. The Kid Rock and Eminem movies never materialized and Rick continued doing his time buried inside the belly of the beast, hoping someone would take note and broadcast to the world the injustices he has faced.

“I get an hour and 15 minutes of yard a day," Rick says. “I have a job where I work four days a week for three hours. Other than that, you’re in your cell, you’re locked up. The food is terrible. It's from some private company called Aramark. You’re lucky if you can eat two meals out of the week. The meals are just terrible. The food is terrible. The conditions are terrible. In the summer time, there's no air conditioning. You just have to sit as still as you can and let a small fan blow on you.” Rick does what he can to pass the time.

“Read, write, watch TV—there's not really much you can do,” he tells The Fix. “You get in a routine and that's it. As sad as it to say, after all these years, you get used to it. It becomes like putting a dog in a kennel everyday, eventually that dog just walks in the kennel on its own.” But with all the interest, things are looking up. The interest of the movie studios has helped expose what’s been done to him.

“I never sold the amount of drugs that these people claimed I sold,” he says. “If I was selling all these drugs, then why did they give the person that was selling me drugs in Miami six months in prison? They made promises to me where the courts say, 'A promise is a promise,' and none of them kept their promise. The US Attorney's Office, the state attorney, none of them. They just turned their back and said, 'Yeah, whatever.'” Rick has paid a high price for his foray into the drug world.

“I look [back] now, if I would have worked a regular $10 an hour job for the last 28 years, I would have made close to a million dollars legitimately,” he tells The Fix. “Basically after 28 years in prison, you’re watching the world around you, watching everything progress, and you’re in prison regressing. You’re not learning anything. I wouldn’t know how to use a smartphone if you put one in my hand.” He has lots of regrets.

“I’ve watched my kids grow up from prison,” he says. “Never took them to school. Never took them to any functions. Now I’m watching my grandkids grow up. I equate it to being dead but being able to watch everything that happens.” But the media and Hollywood have kept his story alive, generating story after story and now Rick has hope for the future.

“I definitely think now that the federal court is looking at it and getting involved something will happen,” Rick says. “There’s other national media coverage looking at it. Someone is gonna have to say, 'At least give us a reason as to why you are doing this?'” The Wayne County Prosecutor's Office in Detroit has filed an objection and appeal to Rick being resentenced but the judge is determined to see justice done. And justice done means letting Rick go.

“I want to succeed in life and do something on some positive level,” Rick tells The Fix. “I want to show everyone that I’m not the person that these people made me out to be. That's why I do those little fundraisers from here because these people want to portray you in the most negative light and they want to lie to society and say, 'He’s this,' and to me that keeps a burning desire to show these people that's not the person I am.”

Hollywood can weave tales and make movie magic all they want, but for White Boy Rick’s story all they have to do is tell the truth, because oftentimes the truth is stranger than fiction and that is especially true in this case. His homecoming would just be the latest twist in his story; A final and dramatic conclusion for the movie, or movies, that are in line to be made. Imagine that, White Boy Rick sitting on the set of the movie being made about his life as Hollywood royalty pays court to him and gives him his day on the red carpet. A long way from the cellblock.


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