Moderating an evening’s conversation with White Boy Rick at an Italian supper club is a lot like attending a weekend matinee at the freak show at the Coney Island, Brooklyn.
The joint was chock-full of misfits, the mismatched and the mad hatters. They wore fur and flannel.
There sat the faded Motown star with her evening’s escort, bedazzled Dave, who was dressed in a sequin jacket and a shaggy, raven-colored toupee. There was Rick’s entourage, where two men were having difficulty dividing three shrimp amongst themselves. There were DEA agents seated stage left. FBI agents stage right. Detroit police officers near the soundboard and a public school principal near the bar. The very sort of people Rick had hoped to have left far behind.
And there, backstage, stood Rick himself, dressed in white and diamonds, marveling at the amenities of the modern world: namely, the smartphone and legalized grass.
“Look,” he said with real astonishment as he scrolled through the online receipts of his premium cannabis brand, The 8th. “I just made 11 grand!”
After 32 years in prison, Rick Wershe, 53, is rolling in it. A fleet of luxury automobiles. A condo in Miami, a wad of bills in his pocket and his own line of marijuana.
And last Saturday night, White Boy Rick Wershe was hosting his own coming-out party at the sold-out Andiamo Showroom in Warren. “To set the record straight,” he said.
Yes, he rolled cocaine in the 80s, and he deserved to do time. He admitted as much. He ratted out crooked cops, he said, but claims he never ratted out fellow drug dealers.
And it cost him dearly. Three decades behind bars for a teenager who naively crossed the Detroit power clique to get himself out of a life sentence for the possession of 8 kilos of cocaine. This informant work for the FBI sent the niece and brother-in-law of Mayor Coleman A. Young to prison. But the feds never sprang Rick, and he moldered through decades of incarcerated purgatory. He lost his family. He lost his youth. He lost his hair.
It was an injustice that adults in the law enforcement world would entice a 14-year-old child into a life of crime, only to throw him away when they had gotten what they needed. Consider that Nate “Boone” Craft, a hitman who was hired to wipe out White Boy Rick during his time in the streets, confessed to 30 contract killings and spent just 17 years in prison, about six months per body.
“I was the longest-serving non-violent juvenile offender in the history of Michigan,” Rick said.
Now, I am no fanboy. I was asked to moderate. To be real about things. No holds barred. My own brother was in the crack business at the same time as Rick. My sister died in the dope life. There is nothing nonviolent about massive quantities of narcotics. And I said as much to him.
“Cocaine is a death business,” I said.
That’s when Rick’s demeanor changed. His nostrils flared. His eyes flashed. He flushed crimson. The old bulldog in his designer heels (Louis Vuitton).
Since I was moderating, I didn’t make notes. But what he said in effect was what about the connected who hurt people? What about the opioid makers? What about the Sackler family who invented and pushed Oxycontin on the public. That killed thousands of people. None of them went to prison. It’s always guys from the neighborhoods who go down. How’s that fair?
What could I say? Rick was right. The bankers and the businessmen, the pill pushers, the railroad executives, and the politicos. None of them pay for their misdeeds, their avarice, the damage they create.
This sort hides behind incompetence and connections and are protected by wealth while men of lesser means are locked away behind iron bars. Start putting some of the privileged away and the real violence and inequity that has swallowed the country might calm itself down.
Rick did his time. And in a way, he did many other men’s time too.
Welcome home, White Boy.