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She wanted to kill herself. The American star survived Putin’s prison, the Bible helped her

The cold and dirt in the former Soviet gulag, humiliation by guards and doctors, but also the feeling that he is just a powerless pawn in the global game of great powers. One of America’s all-time great basketball players, Brittney Griner, is preparing a book about her imprisonment in Russia, which shocked the world. The famous player spoke openly about what she experienced and how she was able to survive in Putin’s crimes.

Brittney Griner comes to the Russian court.

| Photo: CTK/AP/Alexander Zemlianichenko

She didn’t want to get out of her warm bed, but she had to catch a plane. She said goodbye to her wife, went to the airport in Phoenix, and after a flight of many hours, she found herself in Moscow. She just wanted to transfer to Yekaterinburg, where she had been playing for many years and was admired as one of the best basketball players in the world. She traveled from her native America to Russia and back many times like this, it was a necessary part of her profession.

But this time it was supposed to be different. It was written on February 15, 2022 and Brittney Griner’s life has turned into a real nightmare.


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She was going through airport control and it was immediately clear to her that she had attracted the attention of the customs officials. The black woman with long dreadlocks, 206 centimeters tall and with an arm span larger than LeBron James’, really didn’t seem very “Russian”. Griner was calm at first, but only until search officers found two forgotten containers of hemp oil in her luggage.

“I immediately thought to myself, damn… this is going to be bad,” the famous basketball player described the fateful moments in an extensive interview with the New York Times. And it was even worse. While her wife Cherelle, her agent and all her relatives and acquaintances slept contentedly on the other side of the world, she was arrested for drug possession. An incredible martyrdom began.

Suicidal thoughts

The collision of a free-spirited American woman, who openly declares her homosexuality, with the gloomy repressive apparatus of Putin’s Russia, where every “otherness” is considered a disease or even a crime, could not have turned out well for Griner.

Right from the beginning, the investigators forced her to sign documents in Russian, which she did not understand. A Russian lawyer, who was soon contacted remotely by agent Lindsey Colas, then informed the women’s NBA star and two-time Olympic champion that because 0.7 grams of cannabis was found on her, she was charged with possession and smuggling of a “significant amount” of drugs and faced up to ten years behind bars.


American basketball player Brittney Griner.

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In Griner’s case, it was prescription medical marijuana because it helped her treat her injuries. However, the Russian authorities know nothing of the sort. On the other hand, they know more than well how to make a detainee repent and deprive him of the slightest flicker of dignity. The American basketball player found out about it during the rounds of various investigators and subsequently in the detention center.

“I’ve never felt so dirty in my life. It was terrible,” described Griner, who, according to her, also thought about suicide. She lost all her personal belongings except for some clothes and a sudoku book. Behind the bars, she was suffering on a bed that was too small, her stomach was heaving from the disgusting thin porridge with fish, she had no way to wash herself. In addition, she was constantly under surveillance, even in the most intimate situations, which was accompanied by mocking remarks from the guards.

The war changed everything

It was even worse a few days later: on February 24, the Russian invasion of Ukraine broke out. It immediately dawned on Griner that, as a famous athlete from the hostile West, she had become a powerless figurehead in Vladimir Putin’s cynical play with a global rival.

“You don’t realize what it’s like to be free until you lose that freedom,” says Griner. “Suddenly I was literally in a cage, I had no idea what would come now and what would come tomorrow. When I heard the door and footsteps leading to my cell in the middle of the night, I thought to myself: Is this the moment?’


Brittney Griner leaves the Moscow court.

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She had to undergo humiliating physical and psychiatric examinations, which revived memories of bullying in her childhood, when her height and body shape began to differ. Her old injuries were echoing, she was afraid of contagion (Russian prisons are riddled with diseases and the HIV virus, moreover, where Griner was in custody, a person with a veterinary degree was in charge of medical care), but the worst was insecurity and helplessness.

The basketball player felt that her former physical form was being lost, moreover, she started smoking due to stress. But at the same time she discovered faith in God. She used to associate religion mainly with prejudice and repression, but she came to a different conclusion behind bars. She asked for a Bible and read it at length, making notes and a kind of diary in the margins of the pages.

Terrible gulag

Griner’s trial began in Moscow on July 1, 2022, after almost five months in custody. It was clear to the whole world that her case was deliberately manipulated, but she decided to confess. It would do no good if she publicly accused the Russian authorities of lying. Speaking in court, she apologized, saying she had no intention of breaking the law in any way. The court was not impressed – Griner got nine years in a penal colony.

The mass movement for her liberation was already in full swing in the USA. President Joe Biden has faced criticism, that a black woman (and also a lesbian) is not a priority for the government. Griner knew, at least through occasional calls with her wife and contacts with the embassy, ​​that she had not been forgotten. On the contrary.


Brittney Griner comes to the Russian court.

Griner case: White American woman released, famous black woman gets nine years

Nevertheless, in the end she found herself in a former Soviet gulag in remote Mordvinsk, which her female inmates aptly called “the butt of Russia” (just a little more peppery). Women lived in cells of twenty, one bathroom for fifty female prisoners. Grinerová et al. they spent twelve to fifteen hours a day cutting fabric for uniforms. Frost, hunger, dirt.

“I told myself that I had to suppress my hope for an early release. I had to accept that I would be here for a long time, then it was easier to accept the situation. I’m just in jail,” Griner recounted.

Encountering the Merchant of Death

In an extreme situation, she learned to look for fleeting moments of happiness in the least expected places. Sometimes, for example, she volunteered to clean up the snow. “It was a bit like getting fit again,” she smiled. Since she had no way to dry her hair after the shower (there wasn’t a single hairdryer in the prison), she decided to get a haircut. That moment at the hairdresser was said to be almost like freedom.

She made friends with the cook there, who was one of the few who spoke English, and she even got a slightly more pleasant job in the kitchen. She celebrated Thanksgiving with smoked turkey leg with rice and soy sauce.


Brittney Griner comes to the Russian court.

Suffering Star Griner for Merchant of Death? Russia reveals its cards, a lot is at stake

Meanwhile, far from the chipped walls of the menacing camp, complex negotiations between the American and Russian sides took place for many months. Eventually, the rumors that she would soon be flying home got to Griner as well. And after a tense wait, it actually happened. After being mysteriously transported to the capital, she underwent one more extremely humiliating examination in front of male guards (she had to strip naked and be photographed from all possible angles). Then they put her on the plane, and upon landing, an exhausted Griner discovered that she was in Abu Dhabi.

She was welcomed by a representative of the American government. As they walked along the tarmac, they encountered a man walking in the opposite direction of the plane. His face was familiar to Griner. It was about the infamous arms dealer Viktor Buto, who was sentenced to 25 years in the US in 2012. It was for him that the famous athlete was exchanged.

Abu Dhabi Airport Prisoner Exchange:

Source: Youtube

As they passed, But shook her hand. Griner noticed how soft his hands were. A big difference from her prison calluses. She later learned that this “merchant of death” spent most of his time in an American prison drawing cats.

Back to life

The Griner case highlighted many issues. For example, on the astronomically unequal salaries of male and female basketball stars. While in the women’s NBA (played over the summer) the best players earn around $200,000 per season, the minimum salary in the men’s NBA is five times higher.

That’s why Griner went to play in Russia years ago, where she was paid a million dollars a year. She got to know the star life: luxurious restaurants, private jets, dazzling parties. Now he also knows what is hidden under the scaly skin of a seemingly hospitable Russia. With a snap of the Kremlin’s fingers, she went from a popular celebrity to an illegal number in prison records. “I’ll never forget it,” he says with conviction.


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The most beautiful chess player in the world went to Russia. I will definitely play for Hogwarts, he says

After being released in Phoenix, she immediately returned to her beloved basketball, but the health consequences of imprisonment became apparent. Griner didn’t even finish the season. Now he is preparing for the new year and he says that he finally feels like before, at least physically. However, scars will remain on the soul forever.

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