Friday, February 12, 2021

Joe Ligon longest serving juvenile lifer released from prison

Joe Ligon has been released from a Pennsylvania prison after more than 68 years, as the oldest and longest-serving juvenile lifer in the country. He’s been imprisoned since 1953, when he was just 15 years old, reported the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Leaving the State Correctional Institution Phoenix in Montgomery County, his white hair peeking out below a prison-issue hat, Ligon was accompanied by a dozen large file boxes. That’s about 10 more boxes than regulations normally permit.

“I’m a special guy,” Ligon explained.

“I guess you accumulate a lot of stuff in 68 years,” said Bradley Bridge, a lawyer with the Defender Association of Philadelphia who’s represented Ligon since 2006. Having taken on the mission of getting Ligon home — first legally, then logistically — he had to scramble to fit the materials into his car, commandeering a reporter’s trunk for the overflow.

Ligon, now 82, received his life term for taking part in a spree of robbery and assaults in which two people died. Ligon admits participating in the crime with a group of drunk teens, but denies killing anyone.

After the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that automatic life terms for kids are cruel and unusual, he was one of more than 500 Pennsylvania prisoners all resentenced to terms contingent on lifetime parole.

But Ligon, resentenced to 35 years to life in 2017, rejected the very idea of parole after nearly seven decades in prison.

“I like to be free,” he said. “With parole, you got to see the parole people every so often. You can’t leave the city without permission from parole. That’s part of freedom for me.”

Other prisoners tried to coax him out into the free world. John Pace, a former juvenile lifer and now a re-entry coordinator for the Youth Sentencing & Reentry Project (YSRP), recalled a fruitless visit to the prison with a group of other ex-lifers. “If you want to fight, fight it when you get out,” he counseled Ligon at the time.

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