'Time': Creating a Portrait of Radical Love Against the Prison Industrial Complex (Exclusive)
By John Boone
Amazon Prime Video
"Shit is easy to get into, it is hard to get out of."
It's a quote Sibil Fox Richardson (known as Fox Rich) took from her mama, though it also serves as a thesis for the documentary, Time, of which Fox and her family are the subject. The film is both a portrait of a woman's fight to keep her family together despite her husband's imprisonment and a look at the harm mass incarceration inflicts not only to the incarcerated (in this case, Robert G. Richardson) but the loved ones left behind.
In 1997, newlyweds Fox and Rob, facing the loss of their family business, robbed a bank. She served three and a half years in prison, while he was sentenced to 60 years without the possibility of probation, parole or a suspension of sentence. Fox would spend the next two decades battling the criminal justice system to bring him home. (Rob was eventually released in 2018.)
Director Garrett Bradley pieces Time together using both her own footage and more than 100 hours of archival home videos Fox shot throughout Rob's sentence. The collaboration is loving and aching and ultimately, despite it all, uplifting, and when FoxandRob (as the duo prefers to be called when referenced together) reunite with their director on the phone earlier this week, the spirit is only joyful.
"Is this the Zurich award-winning film documentarian Garrett Bradley?" Fox calls.
"Congratulations to all of us! What amazing weekend news, huh?" Bradley laughs.
Time arrives after a summer calling for change -- both against police brutality and for Black lives -- and demands continued attention be paid to our country's reckoning with systemic racism. In conversation with ET, Bradley and FoxandRob spoke about never giving up hope and sharing their story for the millions of families like them.
Fox, I know you and Garrett met while she was making [her short film,] Alone. But when it came to your story, how did you know that you trusted her and she was the right person to help you tell it?
Fox Rich: It was probably just the genuineness in which Garrett conducted herself. She's just a loving human being and -- being an old-school person myself -- I believe in energy. She just felt good. Some things you just can't put into words. When it's right, it's right. It's kind of like knowing you're in love. You know, nobody tells you you're in love, you just know it. When we met Garrett, I knew I was in love.
Garrett Bradley: Oh, I'm going to cry this morning! [Laughs] I'm emotional already.
In many ways, the film actually began years earlier with your home videos. Was your intention just to capture the time that Rob was missing? Or had you thought over the years it might become something larger?
Fox Rich: Initially, the reason why I even picked up my camera to film in the first place was because I had married my high school sweetheart. Rob and I had dated for 10 years on and off, so when he finally asked me to marry him and -- as the old people say -- we had jumped the broom, I was so ecstatic that I had finally accomplished something that I wanted for so long. That was to start a family. So, I wanted to document something that I thought was amazing and beautiful that I had done.
Then shortly thereafter -- about six months later after we finally wed -- we found ourselves in Louisiana's criminal justice system. At that point, I wanted to film so that I could make sure that my husband, who was not physically present, would never be away from us. And by the time we were 10 years in, and we were still in the system and I wasn't anywhere closer to getting him home to our family, I knew then that more people needed to be enlightened on what was going on. It was about filming so that others could know what was happening to families in America in hopes that they would one day do something about it.
Rob, what did you think when Fox told you about the documentary?
Rob Rich: Well, I really didn't have a whole lot of thought at the initial stages. I've always trusted Fox's judgment, and when she told me that she had come across an amazing filmmaker that was interested in telling the story of some 2.3 million other people that are rotting away in our nation's prisons, that was just enough to prick my spirit. Then to meet Garrett in person just removed any doubt. She turned out to be just as amazing as Fox said she was. I was a little hurt at first because I just didn't take kind to my wife falling in love with someone separate and apart from me. [Laughs] So, I was feeling some kind of way to say the least, but I think we made for a pretty good threesome.
Bradley: I'll also just say what is so important to know is that, even though Robert, you were physically away from the family, I came into the situation where the family was never at any point separated in heart or in mind. So, we went into this project with everybody on board, and as a filmmaker, I don't feel that it is right to engage a family without the participation and blessing of the person who maybe isn't physically present. That was important to us.
Rob Rich: There were times that I didn't even have members of my own family come visit me, so for Garrett to think that this project and my involvement in it was that important to her that she would take of her time and visit me at the prison, it spoke volumes.
And Garrett, you're signing onto something without a fixed end date -- if you film until Rob is released -- or without knowing what the ending is, if you wrap before then. Fox had been fighting for years and years and years. What was your original vision, not knowing you'd get that happy ending?
Bradley: I feel that I've been really blessed to be guided and to meet human beings who have something to say, whether there's a film that's being made about them or their story or not. I think I connected very much with Fox and with the entire family, and it was important to think about how to address issues around incarceration from a perspective which is not as often explored -- and hopefully will continue to be explored more and more. I'm mentioning that because I didn't go into the project thinking, "I need a specific outcome. I need X, Y and Z." You don't have the privilege of doing that in the real world, and I think to a certain extent, it would take away from the integrity of why we were even working together if I did have some specific outcome of what I was looking for.
Certainly, all of us were trying to manifest a positive outcome. But what I had to say to myself on a daily basis was, "If today is the last day of filming, what will I have up until this point?" The most important thing was to make sure that it was unequivocal for viewers that the system entrenches itself in every element of a family's life. That there was no separation, not only for the Richardson family but for, as Robert said, 2.3 million other Americans, if not double, triple that number if you take into account those serving time on the outside. That they cannot avoid the system. That it involves every single part of your daily life.
Fox Rich: To add to that, if I may, we wanted to tell the story in hopes that telling the story would help us in getting Robert home. That's how entrenched we were. At the time that Garrett came on board, that's still how in the heat of the battle we were, if you would, for his freedom. That is still how in the thick of it with uncertainty we were about bringing him out of this cruel system.
Fox, one of the things I find so inspiring about you is that at a time when you could have felt like you had no control, you took control. In the film, we see you angry, and you talk about not wanting to get visibly emotional. But this experience could break a person and it didn't break you. We don't see you giving up hope. What do you credit that to?
Fox Rich: I can tell you that giving up hope, I don't think that that was possible for us. Rob and I, we valued our family, and it was just a tremendous chastising to have put our family at risk trying to maintain financial solvency. But because we had such a deep entrenched love for our family, we always knew that God put us together and nothing -- not even the state of Louisiana -- was going to tear us apart. We were gonna be together as family, so that gave us an ever-permeating hope. But if you notice toward the end of the film, I was not hopeless, but I was damn sure beaten. I was at my wits' end and I was hanging on literally by a thread. I was just a shell of myself by the time we got to our 21st year.
When Garrett talks about her desire to show how this system permeates every aspect of your life, I'm just grateful, because for 21 years and four days, this system permeated every aspect of our life. Every component of our lives has been influenced and moved by incarceration. And still continues to be. Rob is free from incarceration, but because they did not commute his sentence, he's still home under parole for 40 years. So, it's still not over. We're still paying the system, because he has to pay a parole fee every month. He still has to report every month. This is a life sentence. This is the Dred Scott decision being made manifest all over again in modern-day times, just under a new name. The servitude is for life. You break one law in Louisiana, and they make you a servant for life.
In the film, you speak on the idea of "you do the crime, you do the time." I think that's a mentality too many people still have without having given it further thought. How have you handled hearing that throughout the years? Or what do you say to someone who still has that mindset?
Fox Rich: That was once me. I had two college degrees and was well on my way to building a better life for my family. Because I was naïve, I was one of the ones that voted for the Clinton crime bill. I remember vividly coming home from college, going into the voting booth and saying, "Yes, if you break the law three times, you deserve to do life in prison. You can be multi billed or have enhanced sentences." I remember voting for children at 17 to be sentenced to life in prison as adults. I remember voting for violent offenders to do 85 percent of their time. And then I watched myself and my family live through those decisions that even I had made. I saw how inequitably they decide who they multi bill and for what reasons. I watched my husband, who is not a violent person, but because bank robbery is considered a violent offense, has to do 85 percent of the 60-year sentence.
That's practically life. You might as well say life. And I've watched countless children -- 14, 15 years old -- being sentenced as adults in Louisiana, without ever having a hope to come back home or redeem themselves. [And] in Louisiana, 95 percent of all juveniles that get life are African American male. So, I don't think that people are doing this just because they're so heinous. I think that we are so unexposed. Our hope is through this film and through being vulnerable and sharing the mistakes that we had made, people would be given insight that is needed before we say such dismissive jargon as, "You do the crime, you do the time." If it was fair-- What was the word you used, baby?
Rob Rich: Fundamentally fair.
Fox Rich: If everybody that came through our system was treated fundamentally fair, it would be different. But since the statistics and all of the studies show that that is not the case, then we've got to make it different.
I can't imagine anyone seeing this film and not having their eyes opened. Your first moments together after Rob's release are so intimate -- that time together in the car is so personal and sacred -- how did you decide between having privacy in that moment and immortalizing it on camera?
Fox Rich: Rob and I had waited 21 years and four days to be together, and I wasn't going to wait another minute to be able to touch my husband. And so unfortunately, we were not alone in this moment -- or fortunately, depending on who you ask, because I think two human beings making love is a beautiful thing in this mean old world. We were in the midst of sharing what the experience of his experience was with others. So, some may count it as an extra bonus, I hope. We didn't want to wait another minute to be able to be together.
Bradley: For me, it's really important to really know the people that I'm collaborating with and working with so much so that to a certain extent you can anticipate what's going to happen. I mean, we all were very clear about what was going to happen. We were working with Nisa East, who was the cinematographer with us that day, and I remember saying to her, "Make eye contact with Fox in whatever way feels appropriate and comfortable, and she will let you know when they're comfortable, when they're not." I was driving in my little Honda behind that car, and I was, "Just make sure to shoot in slow motion, 'cause you're not going to get anything otherwise."
And I've had people come to me and say, "I didn't really get it until that moment. I didn't really understand separation until I saw that moment. I didn't understand issues about incarceration, frankly, until I saw that moment." Which is astounding to me, but I think speaks to how everybody has their blocks and their doors and their boundaries and their reasons and their politics for how they want to understand something or not understand something. Being able to see that unfiltered intimacy, I hope, spoke to the absence of it that we feel throughout the whole film. The irony is that the family, FoxandRob and all the boys, were able to resist the system by making sure they remained a unit throughout, regardless of the physical separation. But even for the boys, I think the hugging at the end of the film was so important, to see that outside of the confines of visitation. That's something you can't get from somebody explaining to you why things need to change. You have to just feel it and see it and it'll hopefully speak to the privilege of intimacy that many of us have and that many of us don't have.
Fox Rich: "The privilege of intimacy." That was so well-said.
Rob Rich: As I'm listening to Garrett's response and Fox's response, I was thinking to myself that after so many years of being made to strip search and those kind of things when you enter into the prison system, it has a way of making you lower your inhibitions before long. Even in those crowded spaces, you find a way to create walls when you're trying to figure out how to create some level of intimacy as decently as possible. Even at a visitation setting, Fox and I, we would get reprimanded from time to time from the security officers that would be walking around. I remember one time in particular, a lady walked up to our table and I was rubbing up and down the side of Fox's forearm, and the lady says, "Excuse me, but I'm going to have to ask you to stop rubbing her arm like that."
Fox Rich: Can you imagine that? [Laughs]
Rob Rich: I'm like, "Wow, rubbing her arm?" But I guess maybe on the outside looking in, it looked far more intimate than maybe I had taken into consideration. So, to think that we used to be reprimanded on a regular basis in visitation -- where something as simple as a kiss was looked on in a certain way -- and to know now that with the picture on the poster for the film, we're now kissing all over the world.
Fox Rich: We say we used to sneak kisses in visitation, and now we're being depicted kissing all over the world. How good is God?
Garrett, what was your experience of showing FoxandRob the film?
Bradley: I think any filmmaker to a certain extent is nervous. Not nervous in the sense of feeling like I did something wrong, but nervous in the sense that there's an inherent challenge when you're making a film, when you can only tell a story one frame at a time. And we know that as human beings, our stories are so much broader and so much bigger than what can be told within those confines, but want to make sure that you do the totality of a person and a family and their experience justice within that framework. So, I think for me, that was the most important thing.
Fox and the whole family were so patient, because I just remember even down to the title of the film, Fox was like, "I need something to work with, Garrett." Like, "Give me the title of the film. What is the title of the film?" [Laughs] I couldn't even conceive of it until I felt like the film was really finished. And with everything I do, it's really important to share the work with the people who I made the film with -- to get their blessing, to get their feedback -- before I call it finished. We watched the film at Concordia Studios together, and it was one of the profound moments of my life, of being able to share something that I felt we made together in honor of their story and in honor of 2.3 million people. It was incredibly emotional.
FoxandRob, what was it like watching the film for the first time?
Fox Rich: Tissue and snot. [Laughs] I mean, that's all I can say. And I'm still crying. We cried that day when we saw it right before Sundance. I cry when I see the trailer. I'm not even a cry-baby, but my god! I'm just hoping that other families are able to be as equally moved by the truth and artistry that Garrett has put together in this mesmerizing portrait of resilience and radical love.
Rob Rich: And I would venture to say that for me, the first encounter with the film was bittersweet, mainly because of the fact that when you're fighting for your freedom and trying to get out, you're not really focused on a whole lot of the other things that are going on. But a film has a way of putting things in time and slowing it down enough to where you can see how much your children have grown up and then you start to realize just how much time has been lost. So, for me, it was bittersweet. I was so glad to be able to see a lot of what I had been missing, but at the same time, knowing how much time has lapsed.