Three years ago I received an incredible request: to help someone prepare – IN TWO DAYS – to give a talk on the TED Global stage.
Even more incredible was the story he wanted to tell: a story of resilience, having been framed for a murder he didn't commit, and spending 18 years on death row in a dirt-floor prison cell in Kenya shared with a dozen other men before finally being exonerated and set free.
How did he get set free? During his incarceration, he learned about a group called the African Prisons Project, now known as the Justice Defenders, who helped him study law from behind bars, earn a law degree via correspondence program (pencil and paper, not internet… remember: dirt floors), retry his own case using previously suppressed evidence due to a corrupt justice system, and ultimately gain access to justice he otherwise never would have received, regaining his freedom.
You can watch Peter Ouko tell his inspiring story here: “From Death Row to Law Graduate.”
Several years before helping Peter telling that story, I met Alexander McLean, the founder and Director General of the Justice Defenders. I've had the honor of working with Alexander and the Justice Defenders many times over the years, from helping them prepare for TED talks around the world, to speeches at the United Nations, and more. It was Alexander who had reached out to me to help Peter.
This past summer, Alexander joined me for Episode 17 on the Speaking to Influence podcast. As he describes it, “Our work is to help people who don't have lawyers to access justice,” specifically, men and women incarcerated in one of the cruelest places imaginable, overcrowded and forgotten African prisons. You can listen to his interview here.
Most recently, I worked with a team of his leaders, including former inmates and prison guards now working as paralegals and alumni of the Justice Defenders' program, in preparation for a special visit from Anderson Cooper, who toured one of the Kenyan prisons where the Justice Defenders do so much of their work for a special episode of 60 Minutes. The episode airs this Sunday, December 20th at 7:30PM EST. You can learn more here: https://www.cbsnews.com/news/justice-defenders-60-minutes-2020-12-17/
This time of year, we get distracted with endless Amazon Prime shipments, baking cookies, wrapping presents and – this year – lamenting all the people we WON'T get to visit over the holidays. But I invite and encourage each of you to click at least ONE of the links above and watch or listen to the stories.
It's a phenomenally inspiring kick-in-the-pants reminder to be simultaneously grateful for all that we DO have, and of the importance of ensuring that all people have access to justice around the world.
You can learn more about Justice Defenders by visiting: https://www.justice-defenders.org/ and if your heart is so moved, please consider supporting his Christmas Campaign — see the yellow banner at the top of his website.
Alexander, congratulations on your interview! I'll be watching 60 Minutes this Sunday night. Thanks for letting me be a part of your work.
Here's to your success – and equal access to justice – for all,