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TV Quickfire: Wrongly convicted Raphael Rowe back behind bars for Netflix jail series

Raphael Rowe awaiting his cell block assignation in a Brazilian prison

Raphael Rowe served 12 years behind bars for a murder he didn't commit. Now, for a new Netflix documentary series called Inside The World's Toughest Prisons, the TV presenter and journalist experiences the brutal conditions prisoners face in countries like Brazil and Ukraine. He told us about the show

WHAT CAN PEOPLE EXPECT FROM THESE EPISODES?

An insight into some of the, if not the, toughest prisons in the world, and looking at the conditions and types of prisoners that you find, the crimes they've committed, and the punishments they've received. The programmes are about me taking on the persona of a prisoner for seven days in each one.

WITH WHAT YOU HAVE EXPERIENCED, WHY DID YOU PUT YOURSELF THROUGH THAT?

It wasn't an easy ask for me to go back into these prisons, having spent 12 years of my life fighting to get out of them as an innocent man. But I thought it was important I brought credibility and authenticity to these programmes, where I could explore some of the most pressing issues around the world about how we deal with prisoners and the punishment, what works, what doesn't work and what needs to change.

HOW DID YOU MENTALLY PREPARE YOURSELF?

I suppose by taking each moment as it came. My expectations started at rock bottom. I didn't know really what to expect. Each prison I walked into had a different feel about it. Although we have a format to the programme, we didn't have a set plan on who we would interview and who we would meet and how they would respond to us because apart from the guards that provided us with some security, we didn't take a team of security people with us.

WHAT WAS IT LIKE BEING SO OPEN WITH THE PRISONERS AND TELLING THEM YOUR STORY?

On the one hand, there were times when it was quite crucial that the team I was working with didn't reveal to the prisoners ahead of me going in that I was an ex-prisoner myself, so that they would talk to me as if I was a novice. Therefore they would try to educate me about what life was like and then, those that did know or found out during those conversations, it resonated with them that I had some empathy, some understanding of what it is like to be locked up and what experiences you go through and the things that you witness.

WHAT'S THE MOST SHOCKING THING THAT HAS STAYED WITH YOU?

It's hard to pick one, but I think key was the conditions. In some of these prisons, they are so grim, they're so appalling, it's harrowing to think that human beings are kept in these conditions. You know, these guys slept on concrete slabs, with no blankets, no mattress, nothing to lay on. And I'm not talking about for days – I'm talking about for weeks, and months and for many, in places like Papua New Guinea. And then there is this constant use of drugs and violence. It was always a threat.

CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT YOUR EXPERIENCE IN THE UKRAINE PRISON?

I met many prisoners [in Ukraine]. But waiting to meet one of the world's most prolific serial killers, a guy called Serhiy Tkach, was one of the most daunting moments. When this elderly guy walked into the room and was put into a cage before I could interview him, I was so apprehensive. I didn't know what he looked like, I didn't know what to expect and there was this granddad, if you like, in front of me with the coldest eyes I've ever seen.

:: Inside The World's Toughest Prisons is available on Netflix now.

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