Brittney Griner Wanted to Take Her Life 'More Than Once' in Russian Prison

Brittney Griner Speaks Out in Tell-All '20/20' Interview

Brittney Griner.
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Brittney Griner detailed her time in a Russian prison and her life since being released in a 20/20 interview with Robin Roberts.

During the Wednesday, May 1, episode of the ABC News program, Griner, 33, opened up about being detained after THC was found in her luggage at a Russian airport. The basketball star said that after signing a “form written in Russian” that she “couldn’t read,” she was handcuffed and taken to a 7×7 cell with “a metal bed and a hole in the ground for the toilet” where she was forced to use her own clothes to clean herself.

“I had a couple of shirts a couple pair of sweats, the shoes on my feet,” she told Roberts, 63. “One of my shirts, I ripped it up and used one to clean myself and one as my toilet paper with my dirty hole in the ground with feces all over it. That was the moment I felt the dirtiest and less than a human.”

She was later transferred to IK1, where she was put in a group cell that contained a knife left behind by a guard after lunch. Griner described her sleeping area as being filled with “dirt, grime and absolute filth,” calling it the “dirtiest” she felt during her nine-month prison stay.

Griner recalled her mattress, which didn’t fit her 6’9 build, having “a huge blood stain on it,” and that there were some months when prisoners received no toilet paper. Their toothpaste, meanwhile, was 15 years past its expiration date.

“We used to put it on the black mold to kill the mold on the walls,” she said.

When it came to the food, Griner told Roberts that mornings consisted of a “really thick porridge” that was “more like cement,” while dinner was “a little piece of fish with nothing but bones in it.”

Griner noted that 15 minutes of recreational time outside would often turn into two hours, and the prisoners would have to “bang on the bars” begging the guards to let them back in. Eventually, she was forced to cut off her dreadlocks because they kept freezing. “You gotta do what you gotta do to survive,” she added.

As she recalled the harrowing conditions, Griner confessed that it was in her first few weeks in confinement that she considered suicide. “I wanted to take my life so more than once in those first weeks, I felt like leaving here so badly,” she shared while holding back tears. “I didn’t think I could get through what I needed to get through.”

Ultimately, however, Griner decided to push forward for the benefit of her loved ones. “I was just like, what if they didn’t release my body to my family? I can’t put them through that. I have to endure this.”

Griner’s final stop was at a penal colony called IK2, which Roberts described as one of the “worst prisons in Russia.” Griner, for her part, called it a work camp where there was “no rest.”

Brittney Griner Speaks Out in Tell-All '20/20' Interview
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“Conditions were rough in the buildings there were about 50-60 women in my room, one bathroom, three toilets, no hot water and a long farm-style sink where everybody is washing all types of body parts,” Griner recalled, noting that spiders would make nests above her bed — another reason for cutting her hair.

Before she was released, Griner revealed that she had to write a letter to the president of Russia, Vladimir Putin, to ask for “forgiveness.”

“I didn’t want to do it,” she said, “but I wanted to come home.”

Griner also broke down the day she was detained.

“How was I this absent-minded?” the WNBA star said in a segment that first aired on Good Morning America earlier on Wednesday. “I could just visualize everything I worked so hard for just crumbling and going away. Granted, my mental lapse was on a more grand scale, but it doesn’t take away from how that can happen. At the end of the day, it’s my fault, and I let everybody down.”

Griner was arrested at a Moscow airport in February 2022 while she was in the country to play for UMMC Ekaterinburg during her WNBA offseason. Local law enforcement officers claimed that Griner smuggled hash oil cartridges in her luggage and subsequently arrested her. Six months later, Griner stood trial and pleaded guilty but asserted that “there was no intent.” A Russian judge found her guilty in August 2022 and sentenced the athlete to nine years in prison and a fine of 1 million rubles.

Griner was ultimately released in December 2022 as part of a prisoner exchange.

“This is a day we’ve worked towards for a long time,” President Joe Biden said in a press conference at the time. “It took intense negotiations and I want to thank all the hardworking public servants across my administration who worked tirelessly to secure her release.”

He added, “These past few months have been hell for Brittney and [her wife] Cherelle [Griner]. People all across the country have learned about Brittney’s story and advocated for her release and stood with her throughout this terrible ordeal, and I know that support meant a lot to her family. I’m glad to be able to say that Brittney is in good spirits and relieved to finally be heading home.”

Who Is Brittney Griner? What to Know About the WNBA Star Detained in Russia

Related: Who Is Brittney Griner? What to Know About the WNBA Star Detained in Russia

Brittney Griner has been a basketball phenom for more than a decade, but she’s currently in the spotlight for a very different reason. The Texas native, 31, was detained in Russia after a drug-sniffing dog at an airport near Moscow allegedly found hashish oil in her luggage. The Russian Federal Customs Service announced Griner’s detention […]

Cherelle, 31, fervently advocated for Brittney’s release following the arrest. The couple met in college before getting engaged in August 2018. Brittney and Cherelle wed one year later in June 2019. They are currently expecting their first baby together.

“Can’t believe we’re less than three months away from meeting our favorite human being 🤍,” the spouses captioned a joint Instagram post last month, sharing ultrasound photos.

Brittney and Cherelle added hashtags for “Baby Griner Coming Soon” and “July 2024,” to indicate their due date.

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