Matthew McConaughey’s new crime biopic, White Boy Rick, tells the incredible story of Richard Wershe Jr., best known by the film's title, who became the FBI’s youngest informant at 14 years old. In the film, breakout star Richie Merritt plays White Boy Rick, who strikes a deal with the FBI of becoming an underground drug informant in exchange for not having his father (McConaughey) serve time in person. But once his stint with the FBI is over, Wershe Jr. becomes attracted to the life of crime. And where White Boy Rick is in 2018 is jail, as he's still serving time for his crimes more than two decades after his involvement with the FBI.
Wershe Jr. was arrested under Michigan’s 650-Lifer Law, born under the Ronald Reagan era. This severely harsh drug statute would cause those found in possession of more than 650 grams of cocaine or heroin to serve a life in prison without parole. The New Yorker reports that this changed in 1998, granting parole to those imprisoned for this crime. But unfortunately, Wershe Jr. was amongst the few who continued to spend decades in prison after others serving time for the same crime were granted parole.
In a VICE interview with documentarian Shawn Rech, who made a documentary about Wershe Jr. titled White Boy, Rech explained how Wershe Jr. ended up back in prison after being paroled in 2017. According to Rech, Wershe Jr. didn’t expect to ever be granted parole, and became involved stolen car ring, thinking it wouldn’t affect his time in prison. “He participated in a very minor way — like, referring people to each other—in a stolen car ring from prison,” explained Rech to VICE. “When caught, they treated Rick worse than the ringleader, making his sentence consecutive, rather than concurrent like they did for the other defendants.”
Wershe Jr. had introduced his sister Dawn to a car salesman, inadvertently beginning the stolen car ring. Click On Detroit reports that Wershe Jr. had to plead guilty to protect both 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 Jr. said to Click On Detroit. "It was a forced plea. I don't agree I committed the crime that I was convicted of." Wershe Jr. is set to serve time at Florida’s Reception and Medical Center state prison until 2021.
What’s surprising about Wershe Jr.’s story is how he became the longest-serving juvenile offender in his home state for a non-violent crime. Many believe that the main reason why he was forced to serve such a long sentence was due to his involvement in taking down the police after the FBI deemed him to no longer be necessary to them.
Rech explained to VICE that by playing a role in exposing corruption of those in power, Wershe Jr. suffered the consequences. “Rick agreed to help take down not only corrupt cops, but Mayor Coleman Young himself. He did everything he was supposed to, but Washington went cold on Coleman Young. They didn't care what he was doing. A federal agent said word came down that, “Washington didn't want another Marion Barry, ” noted Rech. “Basically, Rick exposed himself to help them do their job, but the guy he tried to ‘get’ was left in power and made sure Rick was hammered in court and would never see daylight again.”
Wershe Jr.’s story in the upcoming biopic exposes how the FBI took advantage of his desire to do anything to help his father and the role that the law enforcement agency had in turning Wershe Jr. into a criminal rather than protecting him from crime. With the film portraying this aspect, viewers will question whether Wershe Jr. truly deserved to be imprisoned for so long for a nonviolent crime.