Wednesday, October 14, 2020

A woman's fight to free her husband


    My introduction to Time, a documentary about the struggles of a Louisiana wife to free her imprisoned husband, began with the number 60.
    Watching the film, I learned that Rob Richardson had been sentenced to 60 years for a botched Louisiana bank robbery. I thought I must have misunderstood. Sixty years seemed like an extraordinarily long time for a robbery in which no one was hurt. Must have been 16. But no, I heard right. 
      Contrary to what you might expect, Time has less to do with doing time on the inside than with what happens to those outside prison walls. Director Garrett Bradley focuses on Rob's family, particularly his wife Sibil Fox Richardson, who shared her life Bradley over the two decades in which she worked to bring her husband home.
   Fox  herself had been sentenced to 12 years for driving the getaway car while her husband and a nephew entered the Shreveport Credit Union. She served two and a half years.
   Guilt is not the issue here. The injustice stems from the length of the sentence, the unavailability of parole, and its impact on a mother and her six sons. Bradley doesn't have to say it, but before the film's 81 minutes are done, you may find yourself questioning the whole idea of what punishment means.
    The courts turned Fox Richardson into a single mom who had to cope with raising her children and keeping her family afloat. She was pregnant with twins at the time of her husband's sentencing.
     The Richardsons veered into the bank robbery after a stop at  desperation.  They're not looking for exoneration. Fox understands the role she played a role in what happened to her. She has asked for forgiveness. The kids she's raising seem to be exemplary young people. It's impossible not to conclude that her debt to society has been paid in full -- and with interest.
    The same goes for her husband.
So what we get is something more than a cry for legal justice. Bradley gives us a poetic, heartfelt look at Fox's life, and Time makes it clear that punishment can do more harm than the crime. 
    Sometimes we see Richardson talking in videos she made for her imprisoned husband; sometimes we see home footage of her family. Sometimes we see footage Bradley shot. Together, these various threads create a feeling of intimacy that few documentaries are able to achieve.
    The film doesn't unfold chronologically but commits to a subjective view as Bradley offers us opportunities to contemplate the many meanings of time: how it changes Fox and those around her physically; how it seems to go on forever when a goal seems unattainable; and then there are the small, agonizing moments in which Bradley asks us to sit with time, to feel it expanding to the point where it threatens to swallow us.
     It's maddening, for example, to watch a very polite Fox on hold as she waits for a secretary to tell her whether a judge has reached a decision about her husband. It's an encapsulating moment that opens a window into Fox's soul: her patience, her anger, her determination, and her ability to control her emotions as she works her way though a situation in which she's dependent on the decisions of others.
    Anyone who has ever found themselves in trouble would be lucky to have a woman such as Fox Richardson behind them. She gives new meaning to what it means to have someone's back. She's also a living testament to what family ties can mean, having kept those ties alive during the 21 years of her husband's incarceration. 
    Bradley bravely avoids the bog of legal maneuvering. Instead, she shines light on one woman's awesome commitment. What sustained Fox through her tribulations can't simply be attributed to persistence. It's something more, a mission driven by love, devotion and an insistence that -- no matter what -- her family would not shatter. 

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