83-year-old Joe Ligon, considered the oldest and longest-service juvenile lifer in the US, has been finally released after spending nearly 68 years of his life in a US prison.
Ligon, who was released last week, was given a life sentence in February 1953 when he was 15 when he had pleaded guilty to charges related to robbery and stabbing in Philadelphia with four other teenage boys. The incident had resulted in the death of two people and injury to six.
Ligon said he “got caught up, in terms of being in the streets,” while his attorney Bradley Bridge states that his client maintains he never killed anyone, according to CNN.
He said he is not a kid anymore. “Not only am I a grown man, I am an old man and getting older every day.”
After Ligon’s release last week, Mr Bridge emphasised that the child that “committed those crimes back in 1953 no longer exists… the person that came out of prison in 2021 is 83 years old, has grown, changed, and is no longer a threat.”
“He has amply repaid society for the damage and harm that he did. And now, it’s appropriate that he spends the last years of his life in freedom,” Mr Bridge said.
It isn’t that Ligon didn’t have a chance to come out of prison, but he rejected the options of clemency and parole as he believed parole would not give him the freedom he wanted after decades in prison.
He first got the option of clemency from the Pennsylvania governor but he rejected it unlike two of his accomplices who accepted it. Subsequently, in 2017, he rejected another offer of parole.
Mr Bridge, who has been representing Ligon for more than a decade now, brought his case to a federal court and won freedom for his client in 2021.
He informed that several people have been working with Ligon to help his transition into a new world.
One such person is John Pace, a former inmate, who is now working as reentry coordinator for the Philadelphia-based Youth Sentencing and Reentry Project (YSRP).
“There will always be people who think Joe should be in jail for the rest of his life. Joe has control over how he demonstrates who he is today, and he hopes that’s enough to help other people realise how he’s trying to help other people use better judgment,” Pace said.