America’s longest-serving juvenile prisoner who received a life sentence in 1953 has finally been freed after spending 68 years behind bars during which he refused to apply for parole because he says he never killed anyone.
83-year-old Joseph Ligon was only 15 when he was sentenced to life imprisonment in 1953 for taking part in a string of robberies and assaults with a group of drunk teens in Philadelphia.
Two people died as a result of those crimes, though Ligon told the Philadelphia Inquirer that he didn’t kill anyone.
Ligon was freed from a Philadelphia Correctional Institution Phoenix in Montgomery County on Thursday.
‘That was no sad day for me,’ Ligon said.
Ligon was born in Alabama to a poor family. After moving to Philadelphia, he was enrolled in elementary school but he dropped out by the fourth grade and was illiterate.
When he was 15 years old, he was considered an outsider among his peers. Ligon believes he was scapegoated and made to take the fall for the crimes.
In prison, Ligon kept to himself. Most of the time, he worked as a janitor. He also learned to read and write.
In his spare time, Ligon also trained as a boxer and kept in good physical condition by enduring grueling workouts.
In the 1970s, hundreds of lifers in Pennsylvania were released as part of a clemency plan, but Ligon never applied to have his sentence commuted.
‘I’m just a stubborn type of person,’ Ligon said.
‘I was born that way.’
Bradley Bridge, a public defender who has represented Ligon as his attorney since 2006 said his client’s case is an illustration of the excesses of the criminal justice system.
‘We waste people’s lives by over-incarcerating and we waste money by over-incarcerating,’ he said.
‘His case graphically demonstrates the absurdity of wasting each.’
Bridge added: ‘Hopefully his release and the release of the juvenile lifers, in general, will cause a re-evaluation of the way we incarcerate people.’