October 15, 2020
Sixty years for a bank robbery? In Louisiana, that’s practically routine for a black man. Director Garrett Bradley explains why she told one family’s story – and kept filming during their most intimate moments
‘This system breaks you apart. It is designed just like slavery to tear you apart. And instead of using the whip, they use mother time … The experience itself is just like when they used to hang people but barely hang them, and leave their feet just tiptoeing around in the mud.” These are the words of Sibil Fox Rich, compelling subject of new documentary Time. She is talking about the US prison system, of which she has some experience. In 1997 she and her husband Robert Richardson were convicted of a bank robbery in Louisiana. She got 13 years but was released after three and a half; Robert was dissuaded by his lawyer from taking a plea deal. He got 60 years.
That sentence would seem outrageously punitive elsewhere, but, for a black man in Louisiana, it is practically routine. “The white man keeps you there until he figures it’s time for you to get out,” says Rich’s mother resignedly. But Rich refused to let the system break her family apart. Instead, she campaigned for her husband’s release, in between raising her six sons, advocating for other families of the incarcerated, and building a career as a powerful public speaker and self-proclaimed “abolitionist”.