Greetings again from the darkness. “Our prison system is nothing more than slavery, and I’m an abolitionist.” So states Fox Rich, a successful business woman, and the mother of six boys. Director Garrett Bradley brings us the story of this woman who devoted 20 years to the mission of getting her husband’s prison sentence reduced. It was 1997, and the desperate Shreveport couple were arrested for armed bank robbery. Fox took the plea bargain, while husband Rob did not.
Fox served less than 3 years for her involvement in the robbery, while a Louisiana judge sentenced Rob to 60 years (the maximum sentence was 99), with no allowance for parole. Fox was pregnant with twins when Rob was sentenced. She named the twins Freedom and Justus. Director Bradley expertly weaves clips from the home videos Fox recorded for Rob with ‘in the moment’ discussions and observations of her attempts to get someone in the system to hear the case.
What we witness over the course of the film is a proud, strong, fierce woman who, as a single mother, raises 6 kids while she works – at her job and to get Rob released. Twice per month visits is all that she’s allowed with Rob, which leads one of the sons to comment that hiding behind the strong family image is a lot of pain. Fox discusses how her mother taught her to believe in the American Dream, but desperate people do desperate things … although we never get an explanation of just why Fox and Rob were so desperate to rob a bank. Fox’s mother states, “Right don’t come to you doing wrong”, and then she turns around and compared incarceration to slavery.
There are some mixed messages delivered here, which is understandable given how complicated life can get. Perhaps the most vivid message is the impact incarceration has on a family. Fox is an extraordinary woman devoted to raising her sons as strong and smart young men. But she also decries that her boys have never had a father and don’t even know the role one plays. While Fox displays the ultimate in polite phone decorum despite her frustrations with an uncaring, inefficient system, we do see her sincerity as she stands in front of her church congregation asking for forgiveness of her poor choices.
The film was highly acclaimed and talked about at Sundance 2020, and that’s likely because it strikes hard at family emotions and societal issues. A prime example is the phone call between Fox and Rob just prior to his re-sentencing hearing. From a filmmaking perspective, the black and white images are terrific, and as previously stated, the home movies and “live” filming are expertly blended. On the downside, the sound mix is horrible at the beginning, and the music (beautiful piano playing) often overpowers the dialogue throughout. It’s a film meant to create discussion amongst viewers, and it’s sure to do so.