Monday, May 5, 2014

Charles Ramsey: ‘The scary black dude turned out to be the good guy’

Last May 6, after he rescued Amanda Berry from Ariel Castro’s house, Charles Ramsey sought refuge at the Diamond Men’s Club, where he met the guys who became his entourage and media handlers for his summer of viral fame. Congratulatory calls on his always-ringing phone included a call from a U.S. Cabinet secretary (but not the president).

Now, Ramsey writes about his experiences of the past year in a memoir, Dead Giveaway: The Rescue, Hamburgers, White Folks, and Instant Celebrity . . . What You Saw on TV Doesn’t Begin to Tell the Story . . .

In these excerpts, Ramsey talks about his chance encounter with Michelle Knight last fall and his thoughts about the role his race and his sense of humor played in his celebrity.

From the chapter “The Rescue”

On Seymour Avenue the carnival atmosphere continued long into the evening. But after a few hours it was getting to be a bit much. When nobody was looking, I casually ducked away and just started walking.

I headed north up West 25th Street. I trudged on until I saw some bright lights up ahead. It was the Diamond Men’s Club on Fall Street. A strip joint — they wouldn’t allow TV news cameras in there, so I headed that way.

The hour-long journey had made my feet ache and legs burn as I stopped in front of the club to catch my breath. All those years of smoking and asbestos removal (sometimes not bothering with a respirator) had given me charbroiled lungs. I took a few deep breaths, hands on my knees, and then saw this big guy standing outside the club look at his cell phone, then look at me. This dude looked like he bench-pressed Buicks just because he could, so when he started walking toward me, I wasn’t sure what to do. I couldn’t run; I was too tired. I would be no match for him if he wanted to rob me, or worse. The dude kept looking at his phone. He walked up to me.

“Hey, man, aren’t you the guy who just saved those girls? What are you doing here?” he asked.

“Just trying to get away from all them TV cameras,” I huffed. “Bad hair day.”

“Well, come on in. You can hang out here for a while.”

Since this place was open until 2 a.m. and I really had nowhere else to go—I wasn’t going back to Seymour—I followed this hulking figure into the club. No cover charge for me. He escorted me through the florescent lighting to the bar, and for the first time in probably eight hours I was able to sit down. I looked up at the six big-screen high-def televisions behind the bar. And there I was. The face that could crack a thousand mirrors. Soon, customers started noticing that the big scary-looking black dude on TV was sitting right among them.

One by one they came over and congratulated me. I heard “God bless you” so many times (a bit ironic to hear in a strip club) that I began to sneeze as if on cue. Every 10 minutes my face and jagged smile were plastered on that TV. The patrons kept cheering me. A few of the ladies who worked there whispered that they would be glad to give me a very special reward. Tempting, yes, but I was just too flippin’ tired. I began talking with this Puerto Rican dude, Justo. He goes by Justo Jr. He introduced me to his brothers Wesley and Victor, then pulled out his cell phone and called his uncle.

“Poppy, you won’t believe who I’m with right now,” he said. “It’s that dude on TV. The one who pulled those girls out of that house. Yeah, he’s sitting next to me right now. He needs to get away from all the commotion and shit. I’m bringing him to your house.”

With that, Justo Jr. told me to pick myself up and get into his grey BMW X3. The four of us headed out of the flats to I-71 south. We kept driving and driving.

“Where are we headed, bro?” I asked. I was getting a little nervous that maybe I, too, was getting kidnapped.

“To our uncle’s house. In Brunswick.”

Brunswick? To a street thug from Cleveland, Brunswick was like in Kentucky. Justo Jr. drove down I-71, exited at route 303, and pulled into a ritzy subdivision. No Section 8 housing here. We walked into a spacious house, complete with cathedral ceilings. It was now about 1:30 a.m. The TV was on, and you can guess whose face was on it.

There stood Gino, Justo Jr.’s uncle. “Good shit, Poppy!” he said with a smile. “I’m proud of you. My house is yours.” I was exhausted but couldn’t sleep. I chilled out as best I could, unaware of the Category 5 hurricane that would strike the next morning. My life was about to go from that of a lowly ex-con, onion-peeling dishwasher to WTF.

From the chapter Media Madness:

“It’s the White House!” he shouted. “The goddamn White House is calling.”

Wesley carefully put the phone on a table. Everyone, including all the TSA people, gathered around with hushed anticipation. I gingerly pushed the green button and put the phone on speaker.

“Hello?” I said softly. We all knew what voice we were about to hear.

“Mr. Ramsey?”

“Yes, right here, sir.”

“Mr. Ramsey, this is Secretary—.” He gave his name, but I can’t remember it.

“Wha? Dis ain’t Barack?”

“No, I’m a cabinet secretary. I work very closely with the president. On behalf of the United States government, I want to commend you for your quick action and heroic deed. Congratulations, sir.”

Pause. “Dis ain’t Barack?”

“No, Mr. Ramsey. The president has seen on the news what you did. He’s very grateful for what you did for those girls.”

“Uh, thanks. Just did what I had to do, bro.” The group let out a collective sigh of disappointment. I guess it’s still an honor to be called by a cabinet secretary, and it probably was a good thing that it wasn’t Barack calling me. Trust me, I would have had a few things to say to him. He would have wound up hanging up on me, and for sure my ass would have been audited.

From the chapter “The Girls”

I hope everyone gives all three, actually four, girls the same love and affection you all have shown me. What they went through is something few people could ever comprehend, or survive.

The only one I’ve had personal contact with since is Michelle. By chance, we live very close to each other, and Thanksgiving 2013 I saw her walking her dog. I walked up to her and said, “Hi, Michelle.” She looked up at me and said, “Oh, hi. It’s good to meet you finally.” It wasn’t a dramatic meeting, just a low-key meeting similar to that of old friends.

From the chapter “Who’s Stereotyping Now?”

One of the main reasons my part in this whole event became such an international story is the series of ironies that didn’t fit the usual stereotypical patterns and perceptions. This time the scary black dude turned out to be the good guy. And this same scary black dude turned out to be more of a funny guy on TV rather than a thuggish street rat. Plus this scary lookin’ black dude spoke openly about the race factor.

In a perfect world it shouldn’t matter what race I was or what race the girls were. But we don’t live in a perfect world. Race still plays a factor in society’s perception of what should and shouldn’t be. Deep inside, everyone knows that. I was just the first one in a long time to actually say it to the world, and with a goofy smile.

Let’s adjust the location and add some bleach. If I were a white dude with perfect teeth walking down Wolf Road in the upscale Cleveland suburb of Bay Village and found the girls in someone’s four-bedroom colonial, yes, it would have made the news, but not to this extent. Yes, I would have gotten a certificate of appreciation from the mayor or something nice like that, but would I have become more popular in the Philippines than King Rajah Matanda? Would Anderson Cooper have flown out to interview me? Would Snoop Dogg have called me and invited me to be on his show? Would McDonald’s have given me so much as an upgrade to a large order of fries?

Excerpted from the book Dead Giveaway © 2014 by Charles Ramsey with Randy Nyerges. Reprinted with permission of Gray & Co., Publishers. Available at and Autographed copies available at


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