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Brittney Griner Describes Life Behind Bars As ‘Putin’s Pawn’ in New E-book

In “Coming Home,” the WNBA star recounts her harrowing ordeal behind bars in Russia, where she was arrested for having near-empty cannabis oil containers in her luggage. Updated  May 04, 2024  10:00AM EDT  /  Published  May 04, 2024  4:05AM EDT  Photo Illustration by Luis G. Rendon/The Daily Beast/Getty images Brittney Griner, the 6-foot-9-inch WNBA player

Brittney Griner Describes Life Behind Bars As ‘Putin’s Pawn’ in New E-book

In “Coming House,” the WNBA star recounts her harrowing ordeal behind bars in Russia, the place she was arrested for having near-empty hashish oil containers in her baggage.

Eboni Boykin-Patterson

A photo illustration of Brittney Griner

Photograph Illustration by Luis G. Rendon/The Each day Beast/Getty pictures

Brittney Griner, the 6-foot-9-inch WNBA participant recognized for having damaged obstacles in ladies’s basketball, together with for being the first openly gay athlete to attain a Nike deal, recounts the depressing 10 months she spent imprisoned in Russia in her new guide Coming Home, which she wrote alongside frequent celeb memoir collaborator Michelle Burford.

On Feb. 17, 2022, Griner was detained in Russia en route to hitch her crew UMMC Ekaterinburg when practically empty hashish vape pens have been found in her baggage. She was held in varied Russian jails for 10 months, earlier than escaping the nine-year jail sentence from a Russian courtroom in August 2022. She was in the end launched by way of prisoner swap, after Russia agreed to her launch in exchange for arms dealer Viktor Bout in December that yr.

Griner’s spouse Cherelle Griner, an legal professional who needed to graduate regulation faculty and go the bar with out spouse Brittney by her aspect, championed her launch by making public pleas within the media and calling out President Joe Biden for not serving to extra swiftly (the guide describes how Biden warned Cherelle that Putin sees her criticisms of him within the media, which may work to their drawback). Two years after reuniting, the couple at the moment are expecting their first child—however Griner hadn’t instructed the complete story of her expertise, till now.

Revealed on Could 7, Griner’s guide particulars what life behind bars in Russia was like, significantly for a really tall, “flat-chested,” brazenly homosexual, Black lady, and simply how terrified she was that may not ever make it house. Complicating the opportunity of her launch was Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February of 2022, after which, Griner writes within the guide, she turned “Putin’s Pawn.”

She recounts the second her baggage was intercepted on the Russian airport, in chilling element

For those who have been following the information in 2022, you’ve heard the story. Griner was in a rush and had practically missed her flight to hitch her crew abroad when her luggage have been searched at customs. In Coming House, she describes how the Russian customs officers gave the impression to be “singling out” foreigners and gave the impression to be “on the lookout for one thing.” She remembers ready confidently (though impatiently) as drug sniffing canine examined the baggage of ready passengers. A police officer’s daughter, Griner felt snug she may simply interpret the canine’ reactions—however was shocked when she was chosen for a extra intense search.

She describes the phobia she felt upon opening up her personal bag in entrance of customs brokers and seeing the close to empty hashish cartridges she’d by chance left in her bag. As she was escorted away and instructed to attend, she knew she was in all probability in large bother as time ticked away and her connecting flight took off with out her. For those who’ve ever packed in a rush, it’s a reasonably relatable horror story.

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When brokers lastly returned to let her know her destiny, she was formally arrested for bringing medication into the nation—however “I didn’t go straight to hell,” she wrote, as officers first drove her round city “together with her knees jammed as much as her shoulders” for exams and consumption earlier than she landed within the first of many cells. “On February 15, I left Phoenix in a frenzy, my coronary heart of [my wife],” she writes, “Three hellish days later, simply earlier than daybreak, I misplaced my freedom, my peace, my life as I’d recognized it.”

Her sexuality was handled as an extra crime

Griner writes that the questioning she endured main as much as her hearings typically included questions on her sexuality. “How typically do you will have sick ideas?” she writes she was requested by a psych physician main as much as her trial. “I don’t have sick ideas,” and “there isn’t any ‘typically,’” she replied by way of translator. Along with being photographed bare a number of occasions, Griner additionally remembers how a physician “shined a lightweight up my butt.”

She additionally knew to maintain her sexuality below wraps: “Being homosexual is frowned upon. That disapproval typically isn’t voiced. It’s understood.” She writes that as a prisoner, she needed to grapple with “three labels some Russians discovered interchangeable: Addict. Loopy. Homosexual.”

She describes the jail situations she endured: freezing temperatures, spoiled meals, no toiletries—the checklist goes on

Whereas ready for her launch, Griner describes the way it turned simpler to stop hoping and settle for her circumstances. “Letting go of hope is usually essentially the most optimistic factor you are able to do,” she writes. She describes the moldy, expired toothpaste she was given together with the opposite prisoners, how she was compelled to sleep on mattresses with blood stains, endured freezing chilly temperatures as her lengthy hair saved her moist and sick, and the way continual ache she’d handled for years prior worsened, as she was compelled into cramped tiny areas as she slept and was transported. The meals she was given typically tasted spoiled.

She was not often allowed to bathe, and when she did, she was compelled to take action below cruelly inquisitive eyes. Griner in the end made associates with a cellmate, who she’d press to translate a number of the merciless remarks made about her physique and sexuality in Russian. She shares how she’d endured many such insults rising up in Texas, leading to a comparatively thick pores and skin about these issues—however not fairly thick sufficient to stave off a freezing Russian winter in a barely heated jail. She’d in the end reduce her lengthy dreadlocks to remain dry within the chilly temperatures. She contracted a number of sicknesses whereas imprisoned. She displays on “desirous to take my life greater than as soon as in these early weeks,” as “suicide would’ve been simple,” however she considered her spouse and stopped herself.

After studying that Russia had invaded Ukraine, she felt hopeless

Within the titular chapter, she writes about how she discovered that the information had damaged about her detainment in Russia. After a guard turned on the TV within the jail the place she was held at some point, Griner describes the surreal second when she noticed herself on the display. “I did a double take. Is that me?” she writes, as she requested her pal to translate. “They’re saying an American has been detained on drug smuggling fees,” her pal tells her—after which Griner writes, “Typically it takes awhile to appreciate you’re fucked. I knew in that second.”

“The invasion modified the whole lot for me,” she writes, “Instantly, my arrest wasn’t simply an arrest, and I wasn’t simply one other prisoner. I used to be a doable chess piece in a showdown between superpowers,” she continues, “The stakes had simply been raised.” She goes on to name herself, “Putin’s latest pawn and prize,” which meant that she was below fixed surveillance. The guards insisted she sleep on the highest bunk in her detention cell, as a result of “the highest bunk was proper below the digital camera, the place the guards may monitor each twitch of my eye.” There was additionally a mic, “to allow them to see and listen to me.”

She continued to really feel like Putin had her life in his arms, she writes, at the same time as she was reclassified as wrongfully detained in April 2022. The classification was a “miracle” and meant that “like Trevor [Reed], I could possibly be traded,” however she nonetheless felt loads of doubt, writing, “No approach would Putin swap me earlier than one of many judges in his pocket slapped me with a responsible verdict. He wanted to indicate the world he was a political strongman.” Her dread deepened when Russian courts sentenced her to 9 years in jail.

She needed to write a letter to Putin earlier than she could possibly be swapped

Griner acquired the information that her freedom “may” be shut when she was instructed of a possible prisoner swap practically a yr into her captivity. “However to ensure that Russia to conform to a prisoner swap,” she writes, “I’d have to handle their president straight.” She didn’t get to jot down it in her personal phrases, nevertheless—she writes that was handed a letter in Russian and was instructed to “copy it in my very own handwriting on a separate piece of paper.” She acquiesced and was later instructed what she’d written. “I’d been compelled to inform Putin ‘I repented’ for my crime, as if he have been some form of deity. That struck me as bizarre, however I didn’t care,” she writes. “Given what I’d endured, I’d write something to get out of his nation.”

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Adjusting to being house has been a journey

Whereas she writes concerning the “exhilaration” she felt at lastly touchdown on U.S. soil and reuniting together with her spouse, Griner additionally writes concerning the “vitriol” that has been directed at her since her return. “On the one hand, I wished to overlook what I’d been by means of. On the opposite, I couldn’t flip away,” she writes as she enveloped herself within the information protection and social media chatter about her story. “Horrible thought. Many applauded the president’s success in negotiating for my freedom. Simply as many mentioned I ought to’ve been left to rot in Russia, whereas others known as the deal [to free her] ‘one-sided’ and mentioned Paul Whelan, the marine, ought to’ve been traded as a substitute of me.”

Although she writes that the “first months of freedom have been a battle” for each her and her spouse, Griner additionally reveals that her emotional journey has continued in remedy. After her physique recuperated from diminished muscle mass and lung capability (because of chain smoking to go the time and calm her nerves whereas in jail), Griner returned to enjoying skilled basketball whereas making time for the therapeutic course of.

“I’m getting open air extra,” she concludes on the finish of the guide, “I’ll simply mirror in silence, thank God for bringing me again to Relle. Some time later, I’ll climb again in my Jeep to crawl over rocks and squeeze between timber.”

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