Two nights ago we attended the KGS friends Entrepreneur careers evening and were privileged to hear the most amazing young man speak. He was part of a panel featuring the cofounder of Hotel Chocolat, half of the entertainment PR firm DawBell who represent the likes of Paul McCartney, Gary Barlow & James Corden, Sophie Cornish MBE cofounder of notonthehighstreet.com and Jez Cartwright, performance coach to top professional sports teams. But this panel of high flyers could not hope to compete.
Leaving school at 18, Alexander McLean decided to take a gap year before studying law at university. But no travels around the world for this young man, instead he wanted to work with a hospice in Uganda. During his time with the palliative care team, he was to come across patients who would change the direction of his own life. These were mainly young men who were dying, but the difference marking them out from other patients was that they were prisoners. As such they received little or no care, in much the same way as the homeless man found dying in a local market – no family or money equals no care or dignity. I’m not sure either of my boys or many others aged just 18 would be able to do what he did next. Purchased a wash bowl, soap, sheets and cared for the homeless man, advocating for him with the medics for 5 days until his death. He watched his naked body piled upon that of a dead woman and listened as told that they would be interred in a paupers grave. He then donned a suit, took a letter of introdution and visited the chief of prisons to ask to visit the hospital wing. The Ugandans were probably bemused by this well spoken, educated British boy.
He was horrifed by the hospital wing – dirty, broken windows, no furniture, no bedding and rarely any staff. Many of the prisoners had never even been to trial, never had legal representation and the most common reason for the 18 year olds being incarcerated was underage sex. Astonishing in the 21st century. Alexander returned to England, raised £5000, returned to Uganda and purchased sheets, blankets and paint. He then approached local hotels for mattresses and returned to the prison where he and friends refurbished the hospital wing. His time spent working with palliative care teams had shown him that everyone deserves care and dignity, a worth placed upon their being. This was applicable to the staff too – once the wing was a better place to work, the staff turned up and took pride in their work, whilst the death rate dropped dramatically. Remember this was achieved by a boy on his gap year!
Alexander went on to study law and was even awarded a prestigious training place as a barrister in Lincolns Inn. But he continued to visit Africa and saw the potential for change within a corrupt system. What did Nelson Mandela say? “It is said that no one truly knows a nation until one has been inside its jails. A nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens, but its lowest ones” This was the birth of the African Prisons Project African Prisons Project which today runs across Africa, giving education and care from death row to prisoners on remand to the prison guards. Many are training in law and are able to help themselves and their fellow inmates, such as the murderer whose “victim” was found alive and well after 12 years but it took a further 6 years to release him. Or Susan, the battered wife who found herself on death row after she stood up to and killed her husband. With Alexander’s encouragment, she studied law by correspondence with the University of London, represented herself at appeal and had her sentence reduced from the death sentence to years in jail. She currently writes pleas for fellow prisoners and when a top African judge presented her with her qualification, she was told to apply to become a judge when she leaves prison.
Alexander speaks with such clarity, compassion and passion; yet his articulate, gentle manner is so self deprecating that he deflects any achievement away from himself. Tedx you tube video I spoke with him and on learning that I had been a palliative care nurse, he went on to tell me how much he values everything palliative care professionals do and thanked me. HE thanked ME!! Crazy and certainly not justified when I consider everything that this extraordinary young man has achieved to date – he really should be recognised and honoured. Queen’s birthday honours list maybe……
Alexander working alongside prisoners