Hey there! I guess you may have seen, heard, or read that I spent 12 years in prison for crimes I did not commit? Well, it’s true. The only reason I am here now and able to share my story with you is because I never stopped fighting to prove my innocence. Eventually, I won and my convictions were overturned by the Court of Appeal in 2000. I was free...but changed forever. I knew, first hand, what injustice felt like, looked like and what prison can do to a human being. I am scarred by my life experience but I have not allowed it to hold me back.
Less than a year later I began a new career as a journalist and broadcast reporter for the BBC, starting at the Today programme, the pinnacle of BBC Radio 4. I had a voice, and I was lucky enough to be allowed to use it. There were many other reporters, but none were ex prisoners, non had dreadlocks and non were mixed race. From this most prestigious and influential show I moved to television reporting in 2003 for BBC1’s The Six O’Clock News. This is the pinnacle of prime time television, and here I was, dreadlocks and mixed race, with a long stretch of my life lost to incarceration and fighting to prove my innocence. Not exactly the stereotypical BBC reporter!
However, it was precisely this that propelled my career even further and between 2004 and 2006 I made hard hitting documentaries for BBC2 and BBC3, covering issues such as serial killers, knife crime, drugs, corrupt UN peacekeepers, enviromental crime and terrorism. One of my investigations played a pivotal part in freeing a man convicted of the assasination of a high profile BBC celebrity.
The BBC recognised that I have tenacity, courage and the life experience that most investigative journalists can only read about, and I became a correspondent for the prestigious Panorama show. This is World's longest running current affairs TV series and once again I was the first ex-prisoner and person of colour, with dreadlocks, to have achieved such a position. This was a far cry from those years in prison cells, fighting to prove I did not commit the crimes of which I was accused. I was now able to use that experience and the skills it taught me of patience and perseverance to become a recognised household name.
My work has taken me to some of the world's most dangerous places, but I thrive on it. At times I had to operate undercover to expose injustice and crime. I smuggled conflict diamonds to show how the system was corrupted, secretly filmed Congolese militia rebels to expose their ruthless tactics and threw light on the illegal international logging and deforestation of some of the World’s most precious resources. In undertaking that particular assignment I risked my own life to save the life of an orangutan and I would do it again in a heartbeat.
I currently host Inside the World's Toughest Prisons on Netflix. Even with my experiences of life inside behind me, and my position as a free and innocent man confirmed, it has been one hell of a discovery. People ask me why go back into maximum security prisons, as an innocent man, after fighting for so many years to get out?
"I am scarred by my life experience but I have not allowed it to hold me back."
I learned about criminal behaviour, crime and the law from the confines of a maximum security prison cell. I transferred the determined questioning and methodological research skills I acquired in prison to become a respected and unwavering reporter that specialised in social and criminal justice. This is why I go into some of the toughest prisons in the world; people need to see what justice, injustice and reform look like around the world.
I have visited many high security prisons around the world, including the Democratic Republic of Congo, Britain, Papua New Guinea, Colombia, Brazil, Ukraine, Belize, Romania, Costa Rica and South Africa to name a few. Inside I film with some of the world's most dangerous prisoners, the guards, prisoners' families and politicians and talk to them about crime and punishment. Is it dangerous? Yes, it is, but I believe it is crucial to show an insight into how prisons around the World work. Only with greater knowledge and understanding can real reform take place.
My reporting and investigative journalism about prison, crime and criminal behaviour has significantly changed people's perceptions and I am very proud of that achievement. I left school at 16, and so my academic achievements have been limited but I do not see that as a failure. It is part of who I am and is testimony to overcoming the financial and social challenges I endured growing up in a deprived area scarred by racial descrimination and inequality. Afterall, I went from there to prime time television and a career in investigative journalism that has taken me around the World!
I am successful in my chosen career because I am a curious individual, a skilled researcher, an experienced interviewer and a tenacious investigator of facts. I have overcome many challenges and learned to channel my adversities into action and energy and believe this trait is within all of us. Finding yourself can be the ultimate challenge.
This is why I volunteer my time to social justice projects I care about. Encouraging and motivating people to overcome their own adversities and achieve their own dreams is important to me, regardless of whether they come from a deprived background with limited qualifications, or are successful postgraduates, or just an ordinary person seeking inspiration.
The response of the viewers to my investigations around the World inspires me to continue with my work. People are curious to understand more about why people commit crimes, and the different responses and reactions of societies towards criminal behaviour.
This curiosity is something I have in common with the viewers and it led me to study a degree in Criminology late in life. It is important to change the narrative surrounding crime, criminals and the criminal justice system. A more transparent discussion about what works, and what does not, is needed in order to reduce both the causes of crime and understand the effect criminality can have upon both the victims of crime and society as a whole.
I am Raphael Rowe and my career was born as a result of spending 12 years in prison for crimes I did not commit.