Recently, 60 Minutes ran a segment about Alexander McLean who founded and runs an organization called Justice Defenders. His stated mission is to defend the defenseless. In Kenya, it is estimated that 80% of prisoners have never had legal representation. In many cases, they don’t even have a copy of their judgment nor do they know the crime for which they were convicted. Mr. McLean was born in London and at age 18, he volunteered to do hospice work in prisons and hospitals in Uganda. Questioned by Anderson Cooper about why he does what he does, McLean responded “I guess that sometimes in life, we see things that we can’t unsee, and then we have a choice as to how we respond to them.” After he returned to London and graduated from law school, rather than taking a high paying job at a law firm, he started a charity to improve conditions in African prisons.
Justice Defenders has worked in 46 prisons in Kenya and Uganda, giving legal training to hundreds of inmates who can then help other inmates, both guilty and innocent, to get fair hearings. He also arranged with the University of London Law School to have inmates who qualified to take a three-year correspondence course to become lawyers. For some of them, they are serving life sentences so their education was not to build a career when they get out of prison but simply to educate themselves and help others in prison.
Anderson Cooper asked “So even if they have murdered somebody and have – a life sentence – if they have transformed themselves in prison, if they are serving others, they might be able to qualify?” McLean’s response was “Yes. Because we believe that there’s more to someone that’s killed than being a murderer or more to someone that who’s stolen than being a thief.” His next comment was what really caught my attention and made me reflect on how I view others. He said “I don’t think any of us has to be defined by the worst thing that we’ve done.” I agree that none of us would want to be defined by our worst moments in life and I’ll now try to have that perspective going forward. Afterall, although there have been too many distressing stories in 2020, there have been others that have shown us moments of grace, such as Alexander McLean’s story.
It's been quite a year and I want to wish you all a safe and healthy 2021.
This week’s selection is:
The Surgeons Cut (Netflix)
They’re philosophers, storytellers and pioneers in their fields. Four surgeons reflect on their lives and professions in this inspiring docuseries.