Brittney Griner, WNBA star, shares harrowing experiences in freezing Russian prison: ‘Rest is nonexistent’

More than a year has passed since WNBA star Brittney Griner was released from a nine-month prison sentence in Russia. Now, she is finally sharing her experience in the penal colony.

In an exclusive interview with ABC’s Robin Roberts, Griner gave a sneak peek into her upcoming memoir “Coming Home,” which is scheduled to be released on May 7.

Brittney Griner, a renowned two-time Olympic gold medalist and nine-time WNBA All-Star, found herself in an unfortunate situation on February 17, 2022. She was detained at Sheremetyevo International Airport in Khimki, Russia, as authorities discovered vape cartridges with cannabis oil in her luggage. It’s important to note that possessing such cartridges is illegal in the country. Griner, without intention, had mistakenly packed them in her belongings. In July 2022, she admitted to having the canisters in her luggage and pleaded guilty to the charges. As a result, she was sentenced to nine years in prison.

Griner found herself relocated to the remote IK-2 penal colony in Mordovia, situated over 300 miles away from Moscow, where she would serve her sentence. She vividly depicted the dismal conditions that prevailed within the walls of the prison.

According to Griner, the mattress was stained with a large blood mark and the sheets provided were thin, making it feel like you were lying on bars.

The conditions inside the prison were harsh, with limited resources for the inmates. According to the Phoenix Mercury star, the prisoners were only given one toilet paper roll per month. Additionally, they were provided with toothpaste that had expired 15 years ago. The frigid environment not only affected Griner’s health but also forced her to cut her dreadlocks.

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“It was inevitable,” she remarked. “Spiders had taken up residence above my bed, creating a nest. My dreadlocks were becoming damp and icy, making me fall ill. Sometimes, you have to take necessary measures for self-preservation.”

“It’s essentially a work camp where you go solely to work. Rest is simply not part of the equation,” she stated firmly.

Brittney Griner says she made ‘a mental lapse’

Griner recounted the events leading up to her arrest at the airport, describing how she had packed all her belongings and only realized her mistake when officials discovered the cartridges.

“I was overwhelmed with disbelief and frustration as I thought to myself, ‘How could I have made such a careless mistake? How did I let myself be so absent-minded?’ The image of everything I had worked tirelessly for seemed to crumble before my eyes, as if it were all slipping away.”

She likened it to a minor oversight, such as misplacing car keys or momentarily misplacing your phone only to discover it was in your pocket all along. Griner acknowledged that her error was on a larger scale, “but that doesn’t diminish the fact that it can happen.”

“It’s incredibly simple to have a momentary lapse of concentration,” Griner remarked.

The U.S. government concluded that Griner had been detained unjustly a few months into her sentence. As a result, she was released on December 8, 2022, through a prisoner swap with Viktor Bout, a convicted Russian arms dealer.

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