having a chronic physical or mental health condition, with the most commonly reported conditions including depression, asthma, and high blood pressure. In New Jersey, about a third of prisoners released in 2002 had been diagnosed with at least one chronic and/or communicable physical or mental health condition.
Ligon grew up in a different world: a farm in Alabama, where he abandoned school in the third or fourth grade — he said he couldn’t stand being in big groups — much as he would reject educational offerings in prison.
“I’m just a stubborn type of person,” Ligon said. “I was born that way.”
His parents enrolled him in school in Philadelphia when he was 13, but he couldn’t keep up. He was still illiterate when he was arrested at age 15. He believes he was scapegoated as the new kid, the outsider.
A loner, he grew to pride himself on his janitorial skills. In Graterford prison, he learned to read and write. He trained as a boxer there, developing a military-style workout regimen he continues to this day, despite his arthritis.
He never applied for commutation, though he could have had a strong chance at clemency in the 1970s, when hundreds of Pennsylvania lifers were released. Instead, he put his faith in Bridge and waited for the day he’d be released. To prepare himself for modern society, he watched world news on a small TV in his cell.
When asked about how he thinks he’ll survive when gets back out in this brand new world, Ligon had one simple answer.
“I like my chances,” he said. “I really like my chances in terms of surviving.”