Home News 5 takeaways from The Times’ interview with Brittney Griner

5 takeaways from The Times’ interview with Brittney Griner


Less than two years ago, WNBA star Brittney Griner began a nine-year sentence in a Russian penal colony, sewing uniforms for the Russian army and living off spoiled food. She lived to catch a glimpse of the sky. She never strayed far from the sport that made her a household name. The smoking habit she picked up in prison weakened her lung capacity. She rarely hears from her wife, Cherel, or family and friends, and she doesn’t know when or if she will return home.

Griner was arrested at a Moscow airport in February 2022 when officials found two e-cigarette cartridges containing 0.7 grams of cannabis oil in her backpack. (To treat Griner’s chronic pain, a doctor in Arizona prescribed medical marijuana, but this is illegal in Russia.) She was charged with illegal possession of drugs and smuggling “a large amount” of narcotics into the country, and was sent to go to jail.

In December of the same year, she was finally released after 10 months of detention in Russia. She started playing again, thinking routine and familiarity would keep her grounded. But the transition was difficult and she’s only now getting back into shape. On May 7, she will publish her memoir, “Coming Home,” detailing her ordeal.

Here are the highlights From my profile on Basketball Stars After I met her at a driving range in Phoenix.

In the cell where she was originally held, there was a hole in the floor covered in feces that served as a toilet. The prison guard brought her a cup of milky white porridge with a piece of greasy fish in it, which made her feel sick. She couldn’t clean herself – no towels, soap, toothpaste, shampoo or deodorant. She tore the T-shirt into pieces: for her teeth, for her body, for toilet paper.

“I’ve never been so dirty in my life,” she said. This degradation would prompt her to consider suicide.

Griner is an openly gay professional athlete who stands nearly seven feet tall. Prison guards stared at her body and asked her gender. The treatment triggered memories of childhood bullying. Whenever she was taken to the doctor or in court, she was forced to sit in a cage that was too small for her height. At one point, a guard locked Griner’s wrists together and then placed the lock on the guard’s wrist. Griner felt like a dog on a leash. Doctors forced her to strip naked and take nude photos.

Griner started smoking, up to a pack a day. Her body changed, losing muscle mass and gaining weight while packaging snack items such as noodles, waffles, salami and condensed milk. She was so frustrated that even doing sit-ups in her cell felt inadequate.

After initially being detained, Griner was transferred to a women’s detention center about two hours’ drive from Moscow.

When photos of Griner were first broadcast around the world, her long hair had been chopped off, seemingly indicating the cruelty she was enduring. But Griner told me that cutting her hair was actually a rare moment of agency during her incarceration. There was little heating in the prison and her clothes never fully dried. She was worried that she would get pneumonia, so she decided to break off the relationship. “The wound was scary, but not as serious as I thought it would be,” she told me, laughing.

Greener wrote a letter to President Biden on July 4, imploring him not to forget her. “Please do what you can to bring us home,” she said. “I still have a lot to do, and you can help me regain my freedom.” Dennis Rodman (publicly) and Donald Trump (privately) Said they would fly to Russia to pick her up. (nor.)

Greener’s most loyal and persistent supporters have been black women, many of whom said online that their administration’s response felt tame. Thousands of people sent messages to Greener from prison.

In late November, about a month after she was transferred to a penal colony 200 miles outside Moscow, Griner got a call from the U.S. Embassy. Discussions about a prisoner swap are ongoing, they said. She was excited, but cautious. On December 2, she was put in a cage and was sent to a men’s prison, where she feared she would have to serve out the remainder of her sentence.

That night, a guard slipped her a note and told her to go home. The next morning, she boarded a plane but had no idea where it was going. The plane landed in Abu Dhabi. She was greeted by State Department Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs Roger Carstens. At that moment, Griner knew she was really going home.

In prison, Greener had a single focus: freedom. At home, she felt lost. Determined to return to basketball, she underwent 100 days of rigorous training and rejoined the WNBA team, the Phoenix Mercury. But her 2023 season didn’t go well and she developed symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. Therapy taught her that there was no “before” anymore.

When she prepares for the upcoming Every season, she likes to go to the mountains near her home in Phoenix. “That’s a big thing for me — getting away from screens and cameras.”

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