Life’s Only Valid Expression.
Her mother raised her to believe in the American Dream: success comes to those who try. So of course Fox Rich believed she was on the top of the world over two decades ago. She was young, ambitious, and in love with her high school sweetheart Rob. They were happily married, raising a family of sons with two more on the way, and pouring their hopes and energy into a clothing business they opened together as a means to support their future. But the store began floundering—try as they might. Finances were falling apart and desperation took hold the moment when what seemed like a dream fulfilled became just one more chapter of a never-ending pursuit. They chose armed robbery as their next step and lost everything.
At least that’s what the penal system would have you believe. It will hide behind mandated sentencing and circuitous bureaucracy that prevents people from pursuing appeals. It will dehumanize inmates into relinquishing their faith in ever seeing daylight again. And it will chew up and spit out children as products of broken homes, increased poverty, and a dystopian outlook on adulthood without looking inward to see the systemic ways in which it’s as much to blame as the criminals it relishes in keeping behind bars as slave labor with no actual desire to rehabilitate. Fox took a plea deal to get home in three years and raise her kids. Rob was given sixty with no chance of probation. But despite it all, they held onto love.
That’s what takes center stage during Garrett Bradley‘s poignant snapshot of a family’s perseverance against long odds entitled Time. For twenty years Fox has shot home videos to document all the milestones Rob would miss. She filmed car rides and vacations, birthdays and monologues filled to the brim with hope. And through them all is a consistent smile to go along with the unwavering optimism that commenced each year with a mantra that it would be “the one” when Rob came home. Bradley cuts a collage of these scenes to open the film and then continues splicing them in to punctuate present-day footage of Fox’s fiery speeches when lecturing students and adults alike about holding onto their freedom and her grown sons living those words every single day.
You either let the suffering define you or you define the suffering. Fox chose the latter. She became her husband’s champion as well as her own to set an example for their sons and do everything in her power to give them the tools to succeed. It’s great to therefore catch glimpses of the spoils of that effort with graduations and debates shining a spotlight on what can be achieved despite its statistical improbability. And it’s not as though Fox doesn’t readily admit her guilt either. They did the crime and they did/are doing the time. But at a certain point punishment evolves into a warped sense of retribution built from prejudice. Remorse and forgiveness should count for something regardless of the system demanding its pound of flesh.
This is their life we’re talking about. Fox is jumping through hoops we’ve all had to jump through as well as those a majority of us have the privilege to forget exist. They do exist, though. And they destroy. Not with impunity either. Look at the demographics of the prison system versus the demographics of the legislators keeping them in business while transferring control to the private sector and do the math. The color of Fox and Rob’s skin does matter here. It matters on the front-end where their sentencing was concerned and on the back-end with Remington, Freedom, and Justus’ subsequent success. Those children prevailed despite a system doing everything it could to stop them. They prevailed not out of fear, but the strength to fight back.
It’s a lesson Fox shares with anyone who listens and one her boys have embraced to continue looking forwards rather than back. We don’t hear a lot from Rob through this ordeal, but those few times we do reveal his own optimism and faith that things will turn out okay even as the calendar continues turning over. That’s not to say a bottomless well of hope is all we need to survive, though. Saying that is just as reductive as believing anyone can achieve the “American Dream” when one mistake will unravel years of promise in an instant. What it does is provide a goal to work towards. It provides a reason to get up in the morning and keep plugging away to maybe even help instill change.
That’s what’s so inspiring about this story. It’s the journey, not the conclusion. Because at the end of the day, getting Rob out is the motivation and intent that catalyzes the undeniable struggle his family endures and conquers in the process. They didn’t let what happen kill them. They lived despite it and pushed forward no matter how many times it seemed like no one was on their side. When people said they should just give up, they stood taller and tried again. They forced people to do their jobs and see the gray areas that complacency and sheer indifference has erased for those who wield the system as a bludgeon instead of a device for change. Time is too precious to simply be treated as a number.
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