Brittney Griner breaks silence about time in ‘mouldy’ Russian prison: ‘I was getting sick’

Brittney Griner

Basketball star Brittney Griner has broken her silence about life behind bars in Russia, and the details are horrific. 

In an interview with ABC’s 20/20, which aired on Wednesday (1 May), ahead of the publication her memoir “Coming Home” on 7 May, Griner told host Robin Roberts some of the emotional details about the ordeal she faced. 

The WNBA All-Star was held for 10 months after being arrested in February 2022, when the authorities found vape cartridges containing hashish oil in her luggage. She was eventually sentenced to nine years on drug charges. 

Griner was released in December 2022 in a prisoner swap with arms dealer Viktor Bout. The deal was arranged after months of discussions between the Biden administration and the Russian government even as tension mounted in the wake of Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine

The double Olympic gold medallist, who missed the 2022 WNBA season while being held in Russia, said that during her pre-trial detention, she was kept in a cell with black mould and a bloody mattress. She was given toothpaste that had passed its expiry date 15 years earlier. 

She was later moved to a frigid penal colony where she was forced worked to manufacture Russian military uniforms. The conditions were so dismal that she had to cut off her dreadlocks because they started to freeze. 

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“They would just stay wet and cold and I was getting sick. You’ve gotta do what you’ve gotta do to survive,” she said.

Cherelle and Brittney Griner
Brittney Griner (L) celebrates with wife Cherelle after being released from jail in Russia. (Instagram/cherelletgriner)

Griner texted her wife Cherelle, with whom she is expecting a baby this summer, to warn her that she was in trouble with Russian authorities. 

Cherelle told 20/20 that the messages, of which “there were so many” filled with “panic”, were “the most alarming thing I’ve ever experienced in my life”.

Brittney told Roberts that she was “so scared for everything” after being sentenced. She explained that she was only carried the cannabis cartridges by “accident”, due to a “mental lapse”.