There are at least nine wise men - three sets of three - in the yard. There is a baby Jesus in a manger, five “Santy Clauses,” Christmas trees, reindeer and lot of lights on trees and bushes.
“I figured it was Christmas, I would make it all even nicer out here and make it ‘purty’ so the kids around here could come and look at it,” said Johnny Ramsey.
“I don’t know how many years I got left,” Ramsey said. “I just want to make it, what’s the word, festive, out here. I don’t know why Clover would bother an old man like me over this.”
Ramsey collected this stuff, and more, to pay the bills and buy medicine for his wife.
And because he wouldn’t clean it up, Ramsey, at age 79 went to jail because the Town of Clover decided that his junk was a public nuisance.
It was that junk – and Ramsey’s stubborn fight to keep what he collected and sold – that eventually landed him in jail for 72 hours in early October after being found guilty of contempt of court.
Ramsey easily had been found guilty. He was the worst defendant in courtroom history – he admitted everything. Ramsey said he had junk, and could care less if it was against any town rules because it was how he, plainly, survived.
Ramsey then failed to clean up his yard for months despite a judge’s warnings that he would go to jail if he did not remove the junk, or pay a fine. Terry Byrd, a stranger from a Rock Hill church, was so upset at Clover’s tough stance that he built a privacy fence for Ramsey with donated materials.
The fence guarded the junk from view but Clover officials knew that behind the fence was what Ramsey called “my junk.”
Ramsey held on in his fight to try and make a buck. He said the town was out to get him and he would neither clean up nor pay.
On Oct. 4, cops at Clover’s town court put the cuffs on him.
“Ridiculous is what it was” said Patty Ramsey, Johnny Ramsey’s wife. “They tried to hurt an old man for trying to take care of his family. It still is ridiculous – they could take him back to jail if he doesn’t clean up to what they say he has to.”
After Ramsey was released from a weekend in jail – he was sentenced to 30 days for the contempt charge, to be served on weekends – he started to clean. People from North Carolina, Rock Hill and Chester, helped him clean up to avoid more jail time.
The town judge, Melvin Howell, reviewed the progress and agreed to stay the rest of the jail sentence, upon periodic review of progress.
“I took so much stuff outta here since then that I don’t know what Clover could want from me,” Ramsey said Saturday. “Most of everything is gone – and that is how I made them dollars. That money kept the lights on – my wife has a bunch of medicines. Where’s the money gonna come from – is it supposed to fall outta the sky?”
Town officials – even the town manager and mayor – came to Ramsey’s home to look and assess the progress after the wave of negative publicity.
But the work is not finished, said Joe Funderburk, the Clover code official whose battle with Ramsey over the junk in the yard started in early 2011. Funderburk was tasked by Judge Howell – the judge who put a 79-year-old man in jail in the first place – to periodically check the progress.
“There are still items on the property,” Funderburk said this week. “I would expect to check again right after the New Year.”
“Those people from Clover know that I have some stuff inside the fence whether anybody can see it or not, Ramsey said. “If I have anything in here they want it gone. Nobody ever complained, said one word, and now there is a fence and can’t nobody see nothin’, but still it is not enough.”
One of Ramsey’s dogs had puppies and he built a shelter out of barrels in the back yard so the dogs can get out of the weather.
“I bet this is against the rules too, just trying to keep them puppies from drowning in the rain,” said Ramsey.
What’s more, Ramsey and his wife say the fight over junk has taxed Ramsey physically. He now requires weekly VA doctor visits. And since he cannot store junk so that he can sell junk, Johnny Ramsey is not just sick with an old leg broken in Korea.
He is almost broke.
Yet in the coming weeks, if Ramsey does not clean up the rest of his yard, and the town of Clover labels his junk as illegal, he will have to go back to jail.
Ramsey walks through his front yard of Christmas displays. He walks through the back yard that is far less filled with junk. “I got just one question for the New Year,” Ramsey said. “Why can’t Clover leave me alone?”