HOUSTON - If you’ve ever been to the Harris County Criminal Courthouse, there’s a good chance you’ve noticed a man outside selling candy and singing to those passing by.
Rick Johnson has been a fixture at the courthouse, lighting up faces for more than 10 years.
Defense attorneys, prosecutors and judges look at the 60-year-old as part of their courthouse family.
Everyone took notice when one day Johnson stopped showing up to the spot where he stood each and every day for so many years.
“He never took a day off. That’s why we were so concerned,” said criminal defense lawyer Deborah Keyser.
Keyser and her husband James Stafford were so concerned that they called Houston Police and hired a private investigator.
They would soon learn the man they’d come to know and adore was sick with Stage 4 colon cancer.
Johnson told KHOU 11 News he didn’t want anyone to see him in such poor health.
“I wish there was a way to turn back the hands of time so we can start over again,” he said.
Johnson couldn’t keep his courthouse family away. They have been visiting him regularly ever since finding out about his diagnosis.
“You know how you never miss someone until they’re gone? Everyone misses Rick, so I think it will mean the world to us if he gets better," said criminal defense lawyer Vivian King. "That big, tall courthouse will have a smile on it, instead of the frown that’s on there now."
Attorneys recall how far Johnson has come.
Many witnessed the 60-year-old turn his life around about a decade ago. Johnson credits Keyser for helping him do it.
Keyser recalls seeing Johnson selling umbrellas outside the courthouse and suggesting that he sell something more practical.
She turned him onto the idea of selling M&M’s, and it quickly became a big hit.
“I walked around and said, 'The guy out front is Rick. Go buy M&M’s.' Once people started going and talking to him, he ran with it,” Keyser explained. “He took something small, and with his work ethic and personality, he turned it into something much larger.”
Johnson went from homeless to having an apartment and a truck.
He said he loves everyone at the courthouse for brightening his world and hopes their support will get him through this battle with cancer.
Johnson has stopped chemotherapy temporarily so his body can get stronger.
“I may never recover,” he added. “It’s as Jesus sees fit.”
A number of attorneys have donated money to Johnson for living expenses and medical costs. The Harris County District Attorney’s Office has also raised $2,200 through a cookie sale.
A GoFundMe page has also been set up for Johnson here.