The notion of time is interpreted differently depending on one’s circumstance. It can be fleeting, lost in a blink of an eye, be shaped by one’s memory and influenced by choices made. For Sibil “Fox Rich” Richardson and her family, time has been a mixture of hardship, enduring love, and unrelenting hope.

Over the course of twenty years Fox Rich has had one important goal in mind: to make her family whole again. The only way that can be achieved is for her husband Rob to be released from the Louisiana State Penitentiary. Sentenced to 60 years for an attempted bank robbery, Fox herself served several year’s for being the getaway driver, Rob has been trapped in the unforgiving American penal system.

As Garrett Bradley’s mesmerizing and poignant experimental documentary Time captures, Fox’s story of stolen time is one that million of Americans with incarcerated loved ones know all too well. While it is easy to shrug off Rob’s predicament with the adage “if you can’t do the time, don’t do the crime,” Bradley’s film challenges this notion by forcing one to see that “doing time” refers to those outside the prison wall as well. Utilizing over a hundred hours of home video footage that Fox and her children shot to keep Rob abreast of their lives, Bradley constructs a powerful meditation on the destructive nature of America’s prison-industrial complex.

Time Documentary 2020

In observing the growth of Fox’s children, all boys, in the home videos over the years, it becomes painfully clear how much the family has lost with Rob not being present. Fox herself remarks while lamenting her sons’ transition to manhood without their father that “time is when you look at pictures of when your babies were small and then you look at them and you see that they have moustaches and beards.” It is not only the familial milestones, such as when one son graduates from dental school, that are taken away by time, but the numerous hours Fox’s has spent advocating on her husband’s behalf. The draining nature of fighting for her family wears on Fox’s face after each call to the courthouse and when each possible parole hearing leads to yet another disappointing result.

Despite constant setbacks, Fox is careful to maintain her image of success and strength. She refuses to let her family become a statistic, one that places the odds against children of incarcerated individuals succeeding. Through Fox’s unwavering love for her husband and children, Bradley paints a captivating portrait of the undeniable perseverance of Black mothers. While Fox and her own mother have different views on how best to approach the penal system, especially one that prefers the grovelling of poor Black women over the persistence of flourishing ones, the unbelievable strength and faith that Fox displays is inspiring.

This determination provides the film with some of its most memorable moments of heartbreak and joy. Using the image of crossing the road into the swamp as a visual metaphor for the murky waters Fox and her family found themselves stuck in for decades, Time is a powerful advocate for prison reform. It not only questions a system that seems to want to keep individuals locked away rather than reform them, but also the perceptions of the individuals and families who find themselves caught up in the system.

An insightful and heartbreakingly beautiful testament to the unwavering power of love, Time is a necessary conversation starter. One that makes a convincing argument for the urgent need to reform a penal system that is destroying families.