89. From Prisoner to Presenter, Raphael Rowe Gives a Behind-the-Scenes Look into the Netflix Show, Inside the World's Toughest Prisons

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What happens in prisons is very secretive. It feels even more far removed from our everyday reality when you take into account what happens in prisons around the world including countries such as South Africa, Brazil, and the Ukraine.

Our guest today, Raphael Rowe, spent 12 years in prison for crimes he did not commit. Eventually, his convictions were overturned in 2000. But that experience changed him.

With that perspective and experience, he was able to be the presenter behind this Netflix show Inside the World's Toughest Prisons, where he had the opportunity to visit these prisons, ask prisoners questions pertaining to their stories, and ultimately, give us a unique viewpoint into what's really going on in prisons. That way, we can have a better perspective about what these realities are, and hopefully, we can do something about them.

Raphael is also the host of his own podcast called Second Chance, and the best selling author of his autobiography, Notorious.

Just to give you a bit more perspective pertaining to Raphael's career in journalism, he is the first person of mixed race with dreadlocks to report for the British Broadcasting Corporation, on both television and radio, and helped re-write the rules on what makes an international BBC correspondent. He is an experienced investigative journalist and presenter on both prime time television and international platforms.

Yet it is being an inspiration to an under-served and diverse audience across the globe that inspires Raphael. He broke the mould on what an international reporter looks like, sounds like and has as a background. He is proud of the fact that in doing so, he inspires others.

Hopefully, by listening to this conversation, you will have an appreciation for the changes that can help make a difference in the everyday lives of inmates around the world. You'll also understand how someone who was imprisoned for a crime he didn't commit leveraged the power of the media to ultimately get out. And you'll also see why rehabilitation is very difficult to ensure and how it's ultimately the decision of each individual.

Share this episode with anyone who would want to see more done when it comes to justice, social reform, or prison reform, either in the U.S., in the UK, or in your part of the world. Enjoy our conversation!

Highlights

Perspective: People's perceptions were changing when they watched something like Inside the World's Toughest Prisons. In making the documentary, Raphael took on the persona of a prisoner so he was treated like a prisoner. They approached everything with a nonjudgmental attitude and allowed things to play out as they discovered them.

Persona: Having to deal with the threat of violence, whether physical or emotional, shapes the person you become. It becomes a part of your personality to the point you develop a skill set, understanding and an awareness of everything and everyone around you.

Skill set: The 12 years he spent in prison has armed him with a number of skill sets he's able to deploy. He has picked up on the threat and has been able to defuse that in real time. So he's still very tuned into that and aware of where the danger is coming from and how to deal with it.

Mindset: It starts and ends in the mind. It's all about the shift in the mind. It's as if he was opening a box that is locked in his mind that prepares him for any eventuality.

Demeanor: Even the way you walk can give off a sense of fear. And they can control, manipulate, intimidate, especially the most vulnerable. They can see that, if not smell it or taste it. And so, it’s about the way you carry yourself in that environment.

Empathy: Raphael asks prisoners from the perspective of empathy and he allows them to tell their story without judging them. Whereas the authority figures or therapists are seeking particular answers to particular questions because they have a way of assessing prisoners to figure out the means to an end.

Persistence: He felt there was something deep inside him that was so angry, and so twisted and so bitter, that kept him going.

Hope: Raphael had this deep belief from the moment he was arrested that he had some hope to cling onto. Whether it was as simple as a letter telling him that something was about to change. Or a visit from one of his family members, or a letter from a stranger telling him they believe in him.

Journalism: The media played a significant role in his wrongful convictions. But he also needed the media to tell people he was innocent. In prison, Raphael spent the time understanding the media put him in good stead to become a real journalist when he left prison.

Resources: Where there is an opportunity, prisoners do and should take those opportunities to look after themselves and prepare to stand up for themselves. The resources are available as well as the courses and the training provided by the prison service.

Change: Prisoners have to choose to make those decisions for themselves. The individual has to want to change. They have to break free of whatever it is that got them into their situation.

Empathy: People need to be more empathetic with prisoners for them to understand what it is that will make that individual make the decision that they want to change.

Choice: Wherever you are in whatever prison in whatever country, whatever resources, whatever training, whatever you are prepared to put in front of the prisoner, unless that prisoner is prepared to change their own life, none of it makes any difference.

Support: As a family member of a prisoner, we need to listen. Listen when you're least expected to hear something instead of giving them a lecture. Then try to implement something subtly that can bring about a change in their character or in their personality.

Creativity: Raphael decided the media was not his enemy and he leveraged the media to get out of jail. What are the things in your life right now that you feel challenged by? Reimagine the way you perceive different entities and forces in your life to turn them for good.

Curiosity: Raphael is asking questions to uncover what might be some sustainable ways to help everyday prison life be easier. Is there something you want to build or start? take cues from what makes you curious and investigate.

Courage: Raphael held on to his innocence while in prison. He was 100% invested in his own self-preservation so that he could ultimately get out of prison and reclaim his innocence. Is there a place in your life where you can be more courageous pertaining to something that matters but not everyone would agree on?

Links to continue to learn from Raphael Rowe:

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Raphael’s Bio In His Own Words

“I built my reputation as a reporter on the BBC Radio 4’s Today programme and as an investigative correspondent on the World's longest running television current affairs programme, BBC Panorama. Two of the greatest bastions of British journalism.

Born and brought up in south-east London, my tone, style and accent was different to that normally heard on the flagship Today programme and caused an immediate stir in 2001 amongst the traditional Radio 4 audience.

Two years after joining the BBC I became BBC3’s launch current affairs undercover reporter on a number of programmes including, Movers, Shakers and Crack Takers, Gangland Manchester and Blood Diamonds, the exploitation, and routes used by terrorists to smuggle conflict diamonds. This was dangerous undercover work but I enjoyed it immensely.

I also presented a number of programmes for BBC2 including This World: Locked in Paradise and Who Killed Kelso Cochrane? I investigated and presented a fascinating three-part investigation which revealed the UK’s first criminal underworld rich list, including smugglers, drug barons and fraudsters.

After joining Panorama in 2006 I reported on a wide range of issues, including Bursting the House Price Bubble, Addiction to Games, Track my Trash, Jailed for a Knife, Smugglers Tales, Orphans of Haiti, Kill at Will: America on trial, and Children’s Fight Club, DIY Justice. During one of my first investigations, Death on Corfu I uncovered crucial information that helped the parents of two children who died from carbon dioxide poisoning whilst on a Thomas Cook package holiday to secure justice.

My investigation for Panorama into the murder of the BBC celebrity, Jill Dando, cast doubts on the firearms forensic evidence used at the trial of Barry George, who was convicted of killing the BBC TV presenter. In August 2008, Barry George was acquitted at a retrial and freed.

I have reported from some of the most dangerous and hostile places in the world, Afghanistan, Democratic Republic of Congo, Sierra Leone, Borneo, Nigeria, Jamaica, Beirut, Colombia, Papua New Guinea and Haiti to name a few.

I am a highly experienced and skilled investigative journalist and presenter on both prime time television and international streaming platforms such as Netflix but it is an inspiration to an under-served and diverse audience that I focus my activities now.

I am Raphael Rowe and my career was born as a result of spending 12 years in prison for crimes I did not commit.”

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Want to continue the conversation?

Find me on Instagram! You can read my daily mini-blogs centered on the same three topics that my podcast features: creativity, courage, and curiosity. I believe that without all three it would be impossible to solve the challenges we were each uniquely made to solve. Wouldn’t you agree? I’m easy to find on Instagram @melissallarena

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