Raphael Rowe is gearing up for his seventh series of Inside the World's Toughest Prisons – travelling across the globe from the Solomon Islands to Bali and the Czech Republic to give a deep-dive into some of the most hostile and dangerous prison environments in the world.
He's been attacked, verbally abused and watched prisoners be murdered by other prisoners – but it's not stopping him from making another series.
Why? Because he's been tirelessly working to try to change the narrative about prisoners – something he thinks could be swiftly ruined by reality shows like Channel 4's new format HMP.
He said: "It's frustrating because the producers of these shows are asking people to do things or behave in a certain way for telly purposes and it doesn’t serve any purpose when it comes to taking about prisons other than entertainment.
"I’ll probably kick myself because one day I might participate in one of these kinds of shows for a reason, but I don’t see how producers can expect people to believe when you use a decommissioned prison and pretend to be a real prison, that it can be anywhere near the reality.
"The reality is, when the cell is locked and you have no way out, the psychological damage and physical damage cannot be replicated in a celebrity-made show. It’s unfair to victims and criminals and authorities that manage these people to undo any handwork that is done on the prison narrative.
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"I very rarely watch the reality type prison shows, so I’ve not seen the Ross Kemp, Stacey Dooley or Katie Piper — it frustrates me to no end that there are so many people out there trying to do the right thing to reduce criminality, but some of these shows continue the myth that I think is so unfair. But naturally, everyone comes at it with a different perspective."
Raph has been travelling round the world to document these tough prisons since 2016 – and despite having been wrongfully imprisoned himself for 12 years, he never gets used to seeing, and smelling, what these environments are like.
He adds: "I am shocked every time I go into a new prison, and I feel scared all the time — I’d be a fool not to. So why do I do it? I just want to document these environments and it works, so I put myself in these sometimes life-threatening situations.
“If I’m smelling the piss and shit and sweat of the men in a prison for the tenth time, it’s not going to be the same as the last time, so I am always taken aback by that.
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"People always say I handle all of this with such calmness, but I’ve been in these situations for real where someone wants to take my life and I’ve been able to survive. I’m not some kind of of superhuman, I just know what prisoners are like.
"There’s not always an immediate threat, it’s about the danger brewing. Prisons can be a serious breeding ground for dangers if problems aren’t addressed in the inside. Their issues fester and their predatory behaviour gets worse."
Despite the dangers prisoners can pose on the public, Raph insists we've got nothing to be afraid of here in the UK – even after the escape (and capture) of terror suspect Daniel Khalife.
He concludes: "We’ve had a breakout in a prison in the UK and it’s hit all the front pages, and rightly so there are concerns. But we have a prison population of over 80,000 – that doesn’t mean we have to lock every other prisoner up behind their door because one has escaped.
"Our prisons don’t even point guns at prisoners or have a licence to shoot to kill like they do elsewhere. We simply don't need to. Our prisons are as secure as they come, and I’ve been to many round the world."
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