Raphael Rowe was wrongly charged with murder and sentenced to life imprisonment in a maximum security prison at the age of 20. During his time in a 9 by 6 foot cell, physical activity and meditation were the only escape routes from detention.
“It was the key to my survival that I did everything to stay fit,” Rowe tells Men’s Journal of his home outside London. “Over the days, convicted of crimes I did not commit, the only way to clear the anger was through intense exercise.”
The convictions of Rowe were eventually overturned, but not before he had spent 12 years of his adult life behind bars. Once free, he focused his energies on a career in investigative journalism. After a successful run on the BBC, he moved on to a subject near his home and explored humanity among prisoners in a documentary called Inside the Worlds Toughest Prisons for Netflix.
Rowe spoke to Men’s Journal about the lessons he’d learned in prison, about changing prisoner narrative, and how to deal with isolation.
Can you describe your surroundings in prison after the conviction?
When I was 20 years old, before going to jail, I was on the verge of smoking and drinking. I did sports training. I studied taekwondo. But once I was locked up, training became absolutely important. Because of the seriousness of the crimes they charged me, I was put in a cage within a cage. Being in a maximum security prison meant that I was mostly alone and isolated 23 hours a day. For an hour they put me in a larger cable cage, about 20 feet by 20 feet, that the other prisoners looked into. In her mind I was the “most dangerous”. I had virtually no interaction with other people during this time. When they moved me, I was accompanied by two prison guards. There were surveillance cameras everywhere.