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Richard “White Boy Rick” Wershe Jr., who was convicted of drug dealing in Detroit as a young teen in the 1980s and has spent nearly three decades behind bars, says he is “cautiously optimistic” he could be closer to a release from prison after a meeting Tuesday with a member of Michigan’s parole board.

During a telephone interview with The Detroit News afterward on Tuesday from Oaks Correctional Facility in Manistee where he is serving a life sentence, the 47-year-old Wershe spoke at length about being imprisoned for nearly three decades and losing “a lot of years” of his life.

Wershe said an old public image showing him as a baby-faced, high-level drug dealer is unwarranted, unfair and has continued to dog him.

“I was a child. You brought me into a lifestyle. I was blinded by the money,” Wershe said. “I was blinded by the women. Do I regret it? Absolutely.”

Wershe said he was “brought” into a lifestyle of drugs by the agents and police who used him as an informant from 1984 to 1986. He was shot in the stomach during those years and had stopped selling drugs by the time he was 16.

“I lost a lot of years of my life for things that aren’t true. I was never the drug dealer ... this huge drug kingpin. That couldn’t be more wrong. I sold drugs for 11 months.”

Wershe has spent nearly 29 years behind prison walls for distributing drugs when he was a teenager. He was 17 when he was sentenced to life behind bars without parole for possession to deliver more than 650 grams of a controlled substance. His sentence was later amended to life with the possibility of parole.

Lawyers and supporters of Wershe say he was used as a drug informant by federal agents.

Earlier Tuesday, Wershe met with a member of the Michigan Parole Board. The meeting lasted about an hour, according to a spokesman for the Michigan Department of Corrections. It was conducted by Michigan parole board chairman Mike Eagen.

Eagen and Wershe discussed the offense that led to his incarceration and what Wershe has done during his time behind bars, including programs he has completed, according to Michigan Department of Corrections spokesman Chris Gautz. Wershe said his longtime attorney, Ralph Musilli, was at the meeting as well.

“They also talked about his parole plan, for example, who he would like to live with if paroled, if he has a job lined up, what kind of community support he might have if released in terms of people that can help him adjust to life on the outside,” Gautz said. “From here, Mr. Eagen will write a summary of his meeting, including his opinion on whether the board should have a public hearing to consider prisoner Wershe’s parole.”

Gautz said Eagen will make his presentation to the board at its executive session in mid-March. If the board is willing, a public hearing could take place in June.

Wershe last had a public hearing in 2003, Gautz said.

If he is released from on parole, Wershe would be under the watch of the Michigan Parole Board for four years.

Wershe said he regrets that the time behind bars has robbed him of his ability to be a father to his three children, now ages 29-32. He also has six grandchildren.

“It’s been heartbreaking,” Wershe said. “I was never there (as) a parent for them.”

He said he doesn’t know if he would return to Detroit if he is paroled but he does have an offer from Hollywood writers and producers to live with them.

Wershe said he is working with screenwriter and director Scott Silver, known for the movies “Eight Mile” and “The Fighter,” on the movie “White Boy Rick.” Filming on the movie is scheduled to begin next month in Cleveland, said Wershe. Some scenes also will be shot in Detroit. The movie is expected to be released by Sony Pictures in January.

Actor Matthew McConaughey will play Wershe’s dad, Richard Wershe Sr., who is now deceased. Wershe said a 15-year-old Baltimore actor, who is new to Hollywood, will play him during his teenage years.

“He’s a 15-year-old kid who lives in poverty and never acted before in his life,” Wershe said. “Maybe what I went though in life can change his life.”

A U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 2010 abolished so-called “lifer” laws, calling them “cruel and unusual punishment.” In December, lawyers filed briefs in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan requesting the court reconsider Wershe’s 1988 life sentence on the drug conviction and “reverse the orders of the Michigan Court of Appeals and Supreme Court and remand the matter to trial court for immediate resentencing.”

In a Dec. 6 petition, attorney Paul C. Louisell called Wershe’s mandatory life sentence without parole unconstitutional under the Eighth Amendment’s and the Michigan Constitution’s prohibitions against cruel and unusual punishment. The brief also asserts that parole proceedings haven’t “taken into consideration petitioner’s youthfulness at the time of his offense or his demonstrated rehabilitation, growth and maturity.”

Last June, Wershe was turned down by the Michigan Supreme Court for an opportunity to be resentenced. The court justices wrote they were “not persuaded that the question should be reviewed by this court.”

Musilli has argued Wershe has been in prison close to three decades on a “lifer” criminal drug law that has since been abolished by the nation’s highest court.

bwilliams@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-2027

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