by Sophie Trist
Garrett Bradley’s 81-minute documentary Time, available on Amazon Prime, tells the story of New Orleans prison abolitionist, public speaker, and mother of six Sybil “Fox Rich” Richardson as she raises a family and fights for her husband Robert’s release over twenty years of incarceration at the Angola State Penitentiary. Time stands out among other stories of incarcerated individuals — which often seek to rehumanize by highlighting wrongful convictions — because Rob and Fox Rich are not innocent. The couple fell in love as teenagers and married in 1997 with the dream of opening a hip-hop clothing store in Shreveport, Louisiana. When their finances became desperate, the Richardsons and their nephew tried to rob a credit union, with Fox serving as the getaway driver. Fox accepted a plea deal and was incarcerated for three and a half years, but Robert received a sixty-year sentence. Though the documentary contains a poignant scene during which Fox reflects on her crime in a church group, Time focuses on the Richardsons’ humanity rather than their crime, insisting that human dignity and love are for all of us, not just those who have done no wrong. The film’s director, Garrett Bradley, was the first Black woman to receive a directing award from the Sundance Film Festival; the prize is well-deserved for Time’s celebration of Blackness, womanhood, human dignity, and resilience.
Time opens with a six-minute montage of home videos filmed by Fox Rich after her release from prison in 2002, in anticipation of her husband’s homecoming. We see her grief at Rob’s continued incarceration, but also the joy she takes in her six sons, especially twins Freedom and Justus, born after their father was imprisoned. As Fox runs a successful car dealership in New Orleans, her sons celebrate birthdays, graduate from dental school, and enjoy time at amusement parks — but their father’s absence hangs over these familiar, familial images like a shadow.
Time is not linear in the film. Fox’s home videos are interspersed with more recent footage shot by Bradley, the words and images collaborating with each other across two decades. This made the documentary a bit hard to follow in a few places, but it detracted very little from the viewing experience. The viewer can hear Fox Rich coming into her own as the documentary progresses, her voice and manner becoming more confident and fierce as she takes control of her family’s story. In powerful speeches influenced by the vocal rhythms of hip-hop, Fox draws parallels between slavery and America’s prison system and describes her own sense of powerlessness and dehumanization while incarcerated. One of the most poignant moments in Time occurs when Fox, after remaining unfailingly polite as yet another faceless official in the labyrinthine, bewildering court bureaucracy gives her the run-around regarding a ruling in her husband’s case, bursts out in frustration, “They can’t treat human life this way!”
About a third of the way through the documentary, I realized that I knew one of Fox’s twin sons, Freedom Richardson, from my days at Loyola University New Orleans, although we were not close. It was jarring to see a classmate, albeit one I did not know well, featured in this story about mass incarceration. The criminal justice system has never been a part of my world. Seeing a college classmate in Time brought home for me, in an especially visceral way, how mass incarceration tears apart families all around us, often without our knowledge. There is no place our carceral system cannot reach, and Time demonstrates this powerfully.
Governor John Bell Edwards granted Rob clemency in June of 2018. The last scene in Time, and the image used to promote the documentary, shows Fox and Rob free, united, and ecstatically kissing. That kiss becomes a symbol of both resistance and resilience. This family is defined by their love and unity, not any criminal act. The kiss is not a moment of closure, nor can it replace all the kisses and years that the couple lost — but Time’s final kiss does represent a call to action: a call for a more forgiving, restorative justice system.