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Brittney Griner‘s life has been filled with epic highs and lows. She’s been a champion in college and in the WNBA and is a two-time Olympic gold medalist. But she’s also been bullied for her height, her androgynous body, and her deep voice. Griner says that when she was younger a classmate grabbed her chest and laughed, saying nothing was there.

Griner persevered through the bullying, becoming a basketball star and finding love with wife Cherelle. She was the star center for the Phoenix Mercury but also played for a Russian team UMMC Ekaterinburg, enjoying the life of an international sports star flying on chartered flights and staying at five-star hotels, an upgrade in lifestyle and paycheck from the WNBA.

But in 2022, Griner was stopped at Sheremetyevo airport near Moscow and found with two vape cartridges in her carry-on luggage. Though they were less than 2 grams apiece, the oil contained THC, which is illegal to bring into Russia. Unbeknownst to anyone at the time, Russia was preparing to invade Ukraine weeks later, putting Griner at the center of a geopolitical conflict.

She was detained and after a well-publicized trial where she was caged per Russian standard, she pled guilty and was sentenced to ten years at a brutal Russian work camp. In advance of her memoir Coming Home out May 7, Griner said in Prisoner in Russia, a 20/20 special with Robin Roberts, that she thought about suicide.

“I wanted to take my life more than once in the first weeks,” Griner told Roberts. “I felt like leaving here so badly.” She also said she felt “less than human” given the treatment she received while detained.

Among the harrowing details of her ordeal  – she was made to strip more than once as her body was tested and examined. She had to cut her locs as the brutal cold at the Russian work camp meant they never dried completely (spiders were making a nest in her hair). She was transported in a cage – twice – to unknown locations at nighttime with no idea where she was going.

She had nothing to clean or wash herself with initially and was at first sent to a room with a hole in the floor covered in feces where prisoners could relieve themselves. Once at the IK-2 camp, conditions improved, but only slightly.

“The mattress had a huge blood stain on it, and they give you these thin two sheets, so you’re basically laying on bars,” she said about her time in the prison camp. “The middle of my shins, to my feet, stuck through the bars, which, in prison, you really don’t want to stick your arm and leg through bars because someone will go up and grab it, break it, twist it, and that’s what was going through my mind.”

Griner said that she was helped by a few people who befriended her, helping her translate Russian. A bed that fit her better was created by welders at the camp. And she drew strength from the Bible, one of the few books she was given.

But Griner says shame and guilt followed her as she tried to understand how she could have traveled with the vape cartridges in her bag. She told Roberts it was an honest mistake and that her wife usually packed her bags. The vapes, which are legal in Arizona, were prescribed for her to deal with pain from various basketball injuries.

After ten months in Russia, Griner was released in a prisoner swap with Viktor Bout, the so-called “Merchant of Death,” a convicted arms dealer serving time in a U.S. prison. Her case was attached to that of detained former Marine Paul Whelan, who the U.S. says is also wrongfully detained but who Russia maintains is a spy and would not be released in any swap.

Now safely back at home and expecting a child with her wife, Griner says she’s still struggling with the aftermath of her time in Russia. She told the New York Times that she has a hard time cuddling with her wife in their bedroom as being confined in one room reminds her of prison. She is afraid to vacation overseas fearing she could be taken back to Russia. (She says she will travel to Paris for the Olympics as part of the American delegation). She still has nightmares.

“I don’t think I’ve really gotten through it all the way,” Griner said. “I let everybody down. I try to give myself grace. People say I should give myself some grace. It’s just so hard for me to do that.”

Brittney Griner Details Experience In Russian Jail: “I Felt Like Less Than A Human”  was originally published on