He was arrested as a teenager, spent 7 decades in jail and today he is trying to rebuild his life

Almost seven decades is the time he spent in prison the American Joe Ligon, now 83, and who now seeks to rebuild his life after being released and becoming the longest-serving person behind bars in the US, after being arrested as a minor.

Ligon entered prison in February 1953 at the age of 15 serving a life sentence after pleading guilty to multiple charges related to a robbery and stabbing of multiple people in Philadelphia along with four other teens.

During that event, at least two people died and six were injured.

“I got involved, unintentionally, in terms of being on the street”Ligon told the television network CNN, after being released from prison last week.


The then teenager, who acknowledged having stabbed at least one person, was found guilty of two first degree murder charges, although his lawyer, Bradley Bridge, said in statements to that channel that his client maintains that he never killed anyone.

The newspaper The Washington Post He recalled this Friday that this son of sharecroppers from Alabama has spent a total of 68 years in prison, in which he has passed through six penal institutions.

During his trial, which only lasted one day in 1953, Ligon and the other defendants were described as people of “color” and he was incarcerated in a penitentiary center called “Pennsylvania Institution for Defective Offenders”, where inmates who were classified as “mentally defective with criminal tendencies” were admitted.

Joe, in 1963, when he had already been in prison for 10 years. (Photo: Philadelphia Department of Corrections)

In this time the world has changed a lot: Ligon went to prison with him Republican Dwight Eisenhower in the White House (1953-1961), in the middle of the Cold War, and has taken to the streets with Democrat Joe Biden as president, in the middle of a global pandemic.

“The boy who committed these crimes in 1953 no longer exists. The person who was released from prison in 2021 is 83 years old, has grown, changed and It is not a threat“his lawyer told the CNN.

“He has amply repaired the damage he did to society,” he continued, “and it is now appropriate for him to spend the last years of his life in freedom.”


The road to the desired freedom has been long and painful.

In the 1970s, Ligon and the other young men arrested were granted the option of granting clemency by the then governor of Pennsylvania, and just as his two companions agreed, the now octogenarian rejected it because it was parole. .

In the same way, he repeatedly turned down other opportunities to obtain parole, since he possibly would have been under supervision for the rest of his life, according to his lawyer.

Finally, Bridge, who has represented him for fifteen years, He argued that life imprisonment for a crime committed when Ligon was a minor was unconstitutional, and he succeeded in bringing the case to a federal court, which proved him right last November.

Out of prison, Ligon faces the challenge of reintegrate into society, after having spent most of his life locked up, and without having faced everyday situations such as having a job, paying rent for an apartment or electricity bills.

However, you are not alone, as he continues to receive help from his lawyer and the Youth Sentencing & Reentry Project organization, based in Philadelphia and helping people in their situation.

The first thing has been to find a accommodation through a program that has found a family to live in, in their reintegration process.


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