Photo: Twitter/Raphael Rowe
Photo: Twitter/Raphael Rowe
Raphael Rowe, the British broadcast journalist and presenter, who was wrongfully convicted in 1990 for the 1988 murder and series of aggravated robberies as part of the M25 Three, recently spoke to CapeTalk about being locked up in the Brandvlei Correctional Centre in the Western Cape for his Netflix show.
Rowe, who presents the Netflix hit-show Inside the Worlds’ Toughest Prisons said that he spent a week in a cell with eight convicted murderers in the new season of the show.
In season 5, Rowe came face to face with the notorious Number gangs. This gang is a prison gang with one of the most fearsome reputations in South Africa. They are known to operate primarily in the Western Cape prison of Pollsmoor; however, it is believed that they are present in most South African prisons. The gang is divided into groups called the 26s, 27s and 28s
Of this, Rowe says he was genuinely frightened when he entered the prison cell with members of numbers gangs who later stole his shoes from him.
Inmates intimidated Rowe during his stay and took him through an initiation process of sorts. It took a few days to gain their trust, but eventually, some prisoners also shared insights about the prison culture at Brandvlei.
“I wasn’t there to sensationalise the Numbers, I wasn’t there to degrade these individuals,” he told Sara-Jayne King. “I was there to explore what it’s like as an individual and then to branch out into what the Numbers mean. Why can’t they break free of this cycle of destruction, etc?“
Rowe said that there is nothing staged, nothing scripted.
“When I walked into that cell with those guys, they had not met me before. They knew nothing about me and I knew nothing about them. They have their own language and their own way of indoctrinating a prisoner into their cell, which is probably why so many prisoners end up being part of a Number gang… because unless they have the money they would have to be part of a number gang.“
If you are wondering, Rowe did get his takkies back a few days later.
“I’m pleased to say that a few days later I did get my takkies back because I did win them over with my questioning and talking with the guys. I didn’t expect it to be as overt as it was when I walked into that prison and into the maximum security section that I went to where everybody there had a number 26, 27 and 28 stamped on their body… I was genuinely shocked, and that’s not even getting to the point where they intimidated me when I went through initiation process.“
“The number gangs have a notorious international reputation and so I was both fearful and excited to go and explore what this was about… to think that it still reverberates around prisoners and individuals in prisons is astonishing.”