Joe Ligon (83) was imprisoned when Dwight D. Eisenhower was president of the United States. He has now been released, after serving 68 years behind bars.
Updated yesterday 16:25
Ligon was sentenced to life in prison as a 15-year-old in 1953, after being found guilty of robbery and assault. No life-sentenced juvenile in the United States has spent more time in prison than Ligon, writes The Washington Post.
The 83-year-old from Philadelphia has never paid a bill, never voted in elections, never had an income, never had the opportunity to start a family.
Ligon says he never gave up hope of escaping.
– This is not a sad day for me. I feel very good. Like a dream come true. I expected this from day one, says Ligon in a big interview with the newspaper.
The bill to keep him imprisoned for life is three million dollars, or around 25 million Norwegian kroner. Then 37 cancer treatments are not included, according to the newspaper.
While Ligon was locked up, almost his entire family died. Both the little brother and the father were murdered, he says in the interview. A sister, some nieces and nephews are all he has left.
“It would have been much better if I had come out while my parents were still alive,” he told The Washington Post.
One February night in 1953, Ligon and four other teenagers stabbed eight men in southern Philadelphia. Two of the men died. Ligon admitted stabbing a surviving victim. He denied killing anyone but was sentenced to life in prison with no chance of escape.
Since then, all those convicted along with him have been released, except for one who died in prison.
When the 83-year-old was released earlier in February this year, he left prison with 14 cardboard boxes. Half of them were filled with legal documents.
Lawyer Bradley Bridge has been working for 15 years to get Ligon released.
– He is guilty of robbery and assault, but he is not guilty of any murder. He deserved appropriate punishment. But this is a particularly disproportionate punishment for someone who is not guilty of murder, said Bradley, who thought it was extremely cruel to sentence young people to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Today, Ligon would have been sentenced to between five and ten years in prison, Bradley added.
Ligon’s niece Valerie met her uncle a few hours after he was released from prison as a free man. She has promised to take care of her uncle.
– It will not be easy, but he is so happy. This is brand new. Our world is so foreign to him, she says.
The day after his release, Ligon went shopping for new clothes, for the first time in almost 70 years. With him out of the store he had a down coat, some new pants and underwear.
Ligon says he needs time to adjust to freedom, and a less regulated existence than he had in prison.
Ligon tells the newspaper that he now hopes to get a job. He plans to get a membership in a local gym, and he looks forward to visiting restaurants where he can choose “good food from a menu.”
– The goal is to live as good a life as possible.