Age did not matter when he heeded the call to serve his fellow man. All he wanted was for the prisoners to have equal rights to life as those who are free. As twisted as it may seem, some inmates in Africa are victims of lawlessness in that many are wrongly accused of crimes they are either innocent of, or too naïve to commit.
As he continued to study the lives of African prisoners, he discovered that many of them are hungry for knowledge. His first initiative was to educate them by providing reading materials. The APP has certainly come a long way from its humble beginnings, and Alexander has grown and become more impassioned in his cause, as well. Now a barrister, Alexander has gained much more authority in bringing justice to victims of ignorance and poverty.
If Alexander’s heart was not in his crusade, APP would not have grown into what it is now - an award-winning NGO. It’s hard to miss the dedication that people like Alexander have, even for those who cannot repay his kindness. This soft-spoken gentleman is not taken in by the glory:
"Firstly, I turned to my family and friends—they were an enormous support to me in the establishment of APP and still remain a great support as APP expands. I also turned to the Church for support, both personal support and for support with fundraising and awareness -raising for APP. I also turned to Lord Ramsbotham, Mrs. Justice Dobbs QC, the late Lord Boston, Jon Snow and Cardinal Wamala to put the spotlight on APP, all of who have now become patrons of APP." (SOURCE: Devex)
As man who could earn a handsome pay check just by doing his job, why did Alexander choose this difficult, heartache-filled road? To do what he does, you must have a heart for people who are considered liabilities of society. You have to be strong enough to witness death first-hand. You have to be selfless enough to give out of your own pocket to those who have nothing. And that is Alexander’s legacy - his genuine concern and compassion.
Alexander McLean was born in 1985, and his Jamaican father and American mother defied the norm by marrying despite their racial differences. His maternal grandmother, Aileen, was initially against the marriage, well aware that they ran the risk of being judged by those around them. But, because of his father's earnest efforts to win her over, everything settled and the couple soon became parents to a healthy daughter.
Fifteen years after the birth of his sister, no one expected that his mother would have another baby. Alexander was an unplanned pregnancy, so to speak. Nonetheless, he grew up loved and well provided-for. Even as a young boy around 10 years of age, he was always captivated by anything that had to do with law. He wanted to be a judge, and has also been curious of the medical industry. But even prior to realizing what he wanted, Alexander was obviously a gifted child. When he was eight years old, he was able to convince his mother to book them a trip to Egypt. Although she was terrified of being attacked by terrorists, she indulged her boy and spent the entire trip hiding under a veil.
Whatever interested him, he gave it his all. According to his mother, her son would give 110% of his time and energy to anything he really loved to do. For example, when he was in grade school, he bred rabbits and hamsters in their garden just because they were his favourite pets.
Both his parents made him understand the value of education, as neither was lucky enough to finish school. In fact, his mother was forced to drop out at 16 due to financial difficulties, while his father had to endure walking barefoot in Jamaica and making charcoal just to get by. His siblings, meanwhile, both went to a local comprehensive school. Being a smart kid, Alexander made it to Kingston Grammar, but his parents could not afford to send him there. He saw his mother crying one day and truly realized how much they wanted to give him the best in life. Luckily, one recipient of a scholarship dropped out and Alexander was able to take his place.
Early Interest in Civil Rights
When Alexander was 14 years old, he showed an unusual penchant for civil rights; he often read about Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela. Unlike his peers, he was not taken in by girls or the latest toys. He was more of a quiet type who preferred to be with his books. He was unusual in various ways - his first Saturday job was working for a quadriplegic who was also suffering from multiple sclerosis. Somehow, he never lost compassion for people who needed help.
At 16 years old, he volunteered to work for Trinity Hospice, Clapham. Rather than credit his own compassion, he was candid enough to admit that a former professor advised him that volunteering would be beneficial if he was truly considering becoming a judge. He never expected the job to be easy, however; he was quite scared at first, but after realizing how much more fear existed among the people in hospice, he was encouraged. That was when he realized he had a calling to be with suffering people.
Soon, he began developing close relations with individuals who had terminal illnesses. He would accompany them; talk to them; make them feel that they were not alone in what they were going through. Looking at the patients at Trinity Hospice, he realized how blessed he was for having a healthy body and a loving family. From that experience, he found a reason to celebrate every day of his life and share what he has with people who don’t have anything.
Being a Christian has also helped him by laying the foundation of his lifelong purpose and giving him the motivation to keep moving forward. He has many mentors and church-mates who encourage him to keep doing what he loves to do, even when it means getting hurt as he bids dying friends goodbye. But it is this work that has led him into the world of philanthropy.
Volunteering for Hospice Africa
It was not until 2002 when Alexander would travel out of the country in the name of goodwill. He stumbled upon an article about Dr. Anne Merriman, who set up Hospice Africa back in 1993. Dr. Merriman introduced morphine, in a very conservative country, to ease the pain of individuals with terminal illnesses. Despite pressure from the government, she never lost heart and eventually succeeded in making morphine available.
Hospice Africa Uganda (HAU), the first hospice established by her charity, became the model for palliative care in Africa. He took inspiration from Dr. Merriman and decided it was exactly where he wanted to be; with much excitement, he wrote to the charity to volunteer his help. To his dismay, they replied by saying he was too young to do voluntary work. He insisted, however, and went ahead anyway.
His parents said yes, thinking that he would not stay longer than two weeks. He arrived at Mulago Hospice, Uganda’s national referral hospital, entirely unprepared for what he was about to witness. It was nothing like the hospitals back home; Mulago had a shortage of both doctors and morphine, and the hospital was filled with sounds of patients wailing in pain and screaming for help.
Wanting to be out of everyone’s way, he found his place with patients who didn’t have anyone to care for them. More often than not, they were prisoners. One that really struck him was a 23-year-old inmate who had AIDS. As if he still had the courage to escape, they did not remove his shackles. No one paid him any attention, so Alexander took the initiative to bathe and feed him.
Founding the African Prisoners Project
That encounter made him seriously think about the plight of prisoners all over Africa. If that was how they cared for the sick, what kind of treatment did those without ailments receive? He decided to find out for himself by visiting prisons all over the continent. First on his itinerary was Luzira maximum security prison, where prisoners were often left sick and untreated in heart-breaking conditions. His next stop was Kamiti Prison in Nairobi, where he met prisoners who were willing to hit the books.
He set out to revitalize the library by furnishing it with books and doing major repairs, and that is how the African Prisoners Project began in 2004. He collected a total of 7,000 books and 10,000 pounds in cash. His heart ached for kids imprisoned for petty crimes, for women who spend years and years of incarceration with their child, for those who are wrongly accused and in queue for a trial that takes forever to commence. Prisoners are not always properly-represented when they don’t have the means to be defended by a lawyer.
Alexander realized that if people simply resort to judging prisoners for their “crimes,” they will never have the chance to make amends.
"I am not in the business of judging. We believe that everyone’s life has value and everyone has the ability to make mistakes, and everyone also has good in them, and even if you are on death row – and there are people there who have murdered and done awful things – it doesn’t mean you deserve to lose your humanity and be treated like an animal." (SOURCE: The Telegraph)
Before he even turned 30, Alexander had already helped thousands of people. He acted on compassion and he is loved back by those he has helped, as we often forget that prisoners are people too.
Organizations and Programmes Supported
- African Prisons Project
- Tearfund Inspired Individuals Programme
- Basic Needs
- Centre for Capital Punishment Studies
- Better Generation
- Commonwealth Magistrates and Judges Association
- International Corrections and Prisons Association
- Clore Social Leadership Fellowship
- Beacon Fellowship
- Royal Society of Arts
- United Nations Prisons Visitor
- Clore Social Leadership Programme
Awards and Achievements
- 2004: Founded APP (African Prisons Project)
- 2006: Named “Charity Times Volunteer of the Year” in UK Charity Awards
- 2007: Named “Alumnus of the Year” by the University of Nottingham and became the school’s first Alumni Laureate
- 2007: Awarded the “Real World Graduate of the Year” award
- 2007: Presented with the Beacon Prize for Young Philanthropist and named the Beacon Prize Overall winner
- 2008: APP was a finalist in the "Best New Charity" category of the Charity Times UK Charity Awards
- 2008: Won the Vodafone World of Difference Prize
- 2009: Elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts
- 2009: Received his Master of Laws from the University of London and the V-Inspired Legend Award for Leadership
- 2009: Became the first 'Old Kingstonian of the Year’
- 2010: Received the African Achievers International Millennium Development Award
- 2011: Included in “Top 40, Under 40 International Development Leaders” in London
- 2011: Recipient of the Bert Thompson Pioneer Award for Faith Based Restorative Justice
- A Hardwicke and Lord Mansfield Scholar of Lincoln’s Inn
- The youngest Fellow of the Beacon Trust and a Magistrate on the Nottingham bench
Wikipedia (African Prisons Project)
The Condemned Choirs of Luzira Prison, Kampala, Uganda
The African Prisons Project (Founder)
BBC (Student's mission to Africa)
The Independent (Prison break: The gap year student who set up a charity for convicts in Africa)
TED Fellows (Alexander McLean)
LinkedIn (Alexander McLean)
The Telegraph (An English Prison Reformer in Kampala)
Devex (Alexander McLean: A teenager’s vision, 7 years later)
The Idealist Nigerian [Dreams Do Not Work (unless you do):The Africa Prisons Project]
Youth and Justice (Alexander McLean on African Prisons)
Nottingham Post (Alexander on list of world changers)
Financial Times (First Person: Alexander McLean)
Intermission Bristol (Volunteering Abroad: Are You A Blessing Or A Burden?)
University of Cambridge Judge Business School (Alexander McLean, The African Prisons Project: Growing momentum for prison reform in Africa)
Christianity Today (Young Christian improving conditions for prisoners in Africa)