Follow-up in 1998, Life of Crime 2, caught up with two men, Rob and Freddy, newly released from prison and struggling to stay clean, along with Rob’s ex-girlfriend Deliris, is herself imprisoned and punished with a heroin addiction that has led her into and out of prison and prostitution Since she was a teenager. By the mid-2000s, more than two decades since Albert Robb and Freddy first met, the filmmaker had given up on the project. Both men succumbed to their addictions, and Albert assumed that Deleris was gone, too. Then he gets a phone call from her, he’s still in Newark and by that time he’s been sober for years. She told him to meet her and bring his camera.
The result is, in part, Life of Crime: 1984-2020, a candid and sometimes brutal documentary
HBO Spanning 36 years of crime, imprisonment, and exacerbated addiction. Despite the title, the two-hour film is not so much about the crimes themselves as about the ebb and flow of horrific drug use, the ongoing mental burden of addiction, and the impossibility of getting out of a system that was throughout the ’80s. And the ’90s, imprisoned and stigmatized rather than treated drug addicts.
One Year in a Life of Crime premiered in 1989, the same year as the “Cops”-style reality show, which
Glorifying Police Aggression and sick crime for 32 years as one of America’s longest-running television programs (Paramount cancel the program, one of the most influential performances on attitudes toward law enforcement, amid the national racial justice protests in 2020; Fox News’ fledgling broadcast network, Fox Nation, Announced plans to restart Cops In September of this year), Albert told the Guardian, The Life of Crime was meant to be a sort of patch. He said that DCTV “wasn’t interested in following the cops around,” and was keen to ask, “Who are the criminals? Why are they doing this? Can we understand them?”
Rob and Freddy, whom Albert met through a fellow friend at the time, were open books, at least in the mid-1980s, to prove their own ingenuity and skill. “They were very, very creative, and they were very smart,” Albert recalls. “I was fascinated by what they were doing and their creativity.”
The first two-thirds of the film chronicles the events of Rob and Freddy, and eventually Deleris’ journeys from a career to petty crime, doing what it takes to make money (“I wouldn’t make $150 a week when I make $150 a day, Freddy says of his life outside of books) to vicious, all-consuming addiction cycles. Albert maintains amazing access and intimacy throughout, a product of both the trio’s openness and their friendships with Albert that developed over years of obfuscation of their bustle – in the back of the car, in the hotel room where Deliris sells drugs and money, in the mid-’80s kitchen where he prepares Rob and Freddy have their bills.
The 1980s war on drugs was, as in America, not just about drugs; This decades-long effort has disproportionately targeted and black prisoners, dismantling black families and reframing old racism that equates blacks with “danger” in new terms. That context isn’t discussed much in this movie – Rob White, Freddy, and Deleris are Hispanic. They are often surrounded by black people in and out of prison, and on one of his free stints, Rob is scolded by a white officer worried for his safety as he hangs out in an apparently black neighborhood.
“I wouldn’t make $150 a week when I could make $150 a day,” Freddy says. Photo: HBO
But the vast majority of the film is eerily personal, being included in Rob and Freddy, especially Deliris’ cycle through prison, and the parole officers both cold and caring, recovering, and relapsing. A handful of moments, especially one that foreshadows a legacy of disappointment and shock that has already occurred, off-screen, in our timeline, is simply devastating: the time when Freddy’s teenage daughter announces a rare day spent with him one of the best things of her life , Kiki, witness to much of her mother’s suffering and abandonment, haggles with her, at the age of nine or so, so as not to leave at night – “We know how much we love you but we don’t know how much you love us.”
Portions of the film are shockingly graphic, even as we’re used to blood and desperation: Freddy injects a woman in her neck when he can’t find another vein; Deliris picks up their husks or takes cash from a truck driver picked up on the street; The coroner opens a sack to reveal Rob’s decomposing body, discovered days after a fatal overdose after years of interrupted sobriety.
Albert Hazem on the film’s no-nonsense approach to depicting the insults of addiction. “There must be a reason to include that,” he said of the many scenes of injections, parental abandonment, prostitution. “Here we are, 36 years on this timeline, and more people are dying from drugs this year than ever before in US history. We are not paying attention to this problem, and it is killing us.
“As upsetting and emotionally painful as it is, you have to watch this, and you better watch this, ‘because that’s what’s going on,’ or, I think, what happened.”
Deliris, which found its discreet support systems abruptly shut down and unavailable during the lockdown. Photo: HBO
The final part of the film follows Dilliris, who returns to her children after several years in prison in the ’90s, and after several false starts, has remained sober for over a decade. By 2019, she had been heroin-free for 12 years, won a city award for her service helping others treat addiction, and had a love affair with her three children. Albert held talks with city officials to celebrate, until the pandemic shut down all plans. Like countless Americans, Deliris has found its support systems to be suddenly grounded and unavailable during the lockdown; On July 12, 2020, after 13 years of sobriety, three days after I last spoke to Albert on the phone,
Died from an overdose. Her funeral and the reflections of her adult children make up the final scenes of the film.
“Not the finale I wanted,” Albert said of the film’s final notes, which were originally meant to be celebratory, and not a devastating reminder that the shadows of addiction don’t completely dissipate. There is no narrative redemption and no consolation for her family. But Albert hopes, as Deleris monitors the legacy on and off camera, that the film offers a powerful warning.
“These are they, by sharing and giving back to the community,” he said of Rob, Freddy, and Deleris’ decision to continue filming, year after year, decades apart. “They believed it, then I believed it, otherwise we wouldn’t have been making the movie.”