(WXYZ) — Rick Wershe, also known as White Boy Rick, a free man for months now is known as Michigan’s longest-serving non-violent offender.
He’s weighing in on the early prison release of former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick.
Wershe was a teenager when he went to prison for more than 32 years for a non-violent crime. Now, an advocate for prison reform, he says Kilpatrick deserved to be set free.
“Seeing him hug his kids at the airport, he’s getting to see his mom and dad. I didn’t get all those chances, but I’m happy that he is,” says Wershe.
Back in the Detroit area where he’s advocating for prison reform and helping former offenders through the organization Team Wellness, Wershe knows firsthand what it’s like to spend more than 3 decades behind bars, something he says he’s glad won’t happen to Kilpatrick.
“He deserves a chance at redemption,” Wershe says.
Redemption now possible after 7 years, compared to the 28 years Kilpatrick was sentenced to for public corruption and other felonies.
Wershe says above all Kilpatrick deserves to be reunited with family and to be a role model to his kids.
“I spent time with Kwame in prison. He’s very educated. Remorseful. He’s not this arrogant person everybody thinks that he is,” Wershe says. “I think he can do a lot of good. What the President did was good for him and his family.”
He adds Kilpatrick is not a danger to society and he expects Kilpatrick to continue to mentor younger men and advocate for reform as he did in prison.
“Everybody makes mistakes. Some bigger than others,” Wershe says. “Give him a chance. America was built on second chances. The lock him up and throw away the key mentality has to go away.”
Wershe acknowledges Kilpatrick broke the law but says there’s no reason to keep him locked up longer than killers and people committing sex crimes.
“The decision he made wasn’t just about letting Kwame out. It was a non-violent crime. A crime he was over punished for. 28 years. Anyone who believes he deserves 28 years, doesn’t belong working in our justice system,” he says. “I don’t think people realize, I did almost 33 years in prison. My family suffered immensely.”
Wershe believes Kilpatrick’s voice is powerful enough, to help change people’s minds about incarceration. Another reason, he agrees with this decision.