Oldest Juvenile Lifer Set Free After Nearly 70 Years Locked Away, Sees The New World Like A Kid

Salena Harshini |Mar 06, 2021

Joseph Ligon was only 15 when he was sentenced to life after an encounter with a group of drunken teenagers in Philadelphia, US. His view on the modern world will make you reflect on life.

The most senior juvenile lifer recently walked free when he is 83. Things feel like another reality to him after such a long time he was locked behind the bars.

Reportedly, he said skyscrapers “amazed” him and he also mourns his family who passed away since then. Here is his story.

Locked away since 15

Joseph Ligon was at the age of 15 when he was put in jail for life. He was charged with homicide after robbery and onslaught with a slew of drunken teenagers in Philadelphia, USA.

Joseph Ligon
The juvenile lifer served imprisonment for 68 years.

Imprisoned in 1953, he did not apply for parole as Ligon denies ever taking anyone’s life.

After a surprising 68 years locked up, he became the oldest juvenile lifer. Last week, they finally set him free from the State Correctional Institution Phoenix.

Upon his release, reports have it that he was in awe of the world that he can only see now. With the towering skyline, he felt like he ventured into a totally different world from when he went inside.

Joseph Ligon Was Jailed In 1953 Aged 15 Pictured I
Joseph Ligon was put behind bars in 1953, aged 15. Pictured in 1953.

He spoke to Philadelphia Inquirer, “I’m looking at all the tall buildings. This is all new to me. This never existed.”

Also, he found it strange that the place he was once locked into, Eastern State Penitentiary, now becomes a Halloween attraction and museum.

He said it did not suit his tastes.

Joe Ligon The Oldest Juvenile Lifer
The outside world is 'unsettling' to him like he came out from a coma.

Analphabetic when he was 15, Joseph Ligon believed he was scapegoated as “'the new kid, the outsider” at the offending time.

On the release, YSRP (Philadelphia's Youth Sentencing & Re-entry Project) has worked to assist his transition into life after prison.

Why he was released

His path to the day he walked free has been complicated. It became possible after the sentence was reduced 4 years ago to include the likeliness of parole which he had refused before.

In 2012, Supreme Court ruled that “imposing mandatory life sentences on juveniles is unconstitutional”.

Joseph Ligon Pictured In 1998
Joseph Ligon pictured in 1998.

Pennsylvania was one of the states that did not intend to any life sentence reduction. However, it took four years before they got the order to reduce sentences for people received life terms due to juvenile crimes.

Afterward, Pennsylvania re-sentenced Joseph Ligon and over 500 other juvenile lifers to cut off some prison terms including lifetime parole.

In November, Ligon was ordered to be re-sentenced or set free within 90 days. On 11 February, Ligon eventually walked out of prison post the ruling.

Joseph Ligon 3
He now has the chance to restart his life as an elderly.

Eleanor Myers, a senior adviser, shared with Mail Online:

"As much as the world has changed since Mr. Ligon first went to prison, he has also changed. His experience in coming back is basically as a new man.

"He is incredibly cheerful and amazed at the changes in Philadelphia since 1953, in particular the tall buildings.

"He has talked about those in his family who are gone and cannot be together for his homecoming. Mr. Ligon seems to miss them especially."

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