Health & Fitness

Classes from In The World’s Hardest Prisons: Grit, Isolation, and Ingenuity

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 told Men’s Journal of his home outside London. “As the days went by, convicted of crimes I didn’t 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 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 the prisoner narrative, and dealing 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 would look 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.

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