‘I Felt Less Than Human’: Brittney Griner Shares Harsh Conditions, Thoughts Of Suicide During Imprisonment In Russia

(Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

Brittney Griner, the WNBA star imprisoned in Russia two years ago over cannabis possession, detailed the harsh prison conditions she endured during her ten months in captivity in a new interview that aired on Wednesday. 

“I felt less than human,” Griner, who plays for the Phoenix Mercury, told ABC News’ Robin Roberts about the experience, which she said made her consider taking her own life. 

Griner told Roberts that the toilet in her cell was just a hole in the ground, and she had to use one of her ripped-up T-shirts as toilet paper. She also recalled that her bed and uniform were too small for her 6-foot-9-inch frame, and her cellmate had to custom-make a pair of extra-long pants for her because she was so cold. 

The basketball star, who was detained at a Moscow airport in February 2022, said things got worse when she was transferred to another correctional colony. 

According to Griner, her cell was filled with “dirt and grime” and “bloodstains.” She was given porridge “that was more like cement,” was allowed one roll of toilet paper per month, and received toothpaste that had expired 15 years earlier.

She also recalled being left outside in the freezing Russian winter for hours. Her locs froze, and spiders even built nests in her hair. Griner was worried that Russian authorities wouldn’t return her body to her family if she took her life. “I can’t put them through that. I have to endure this,” she told Roberts of her thinking. 

Despite highly lucrative basketball opportunities overseas that are much higher than WNBA pay, Griner does not plan to play overseas. However, she will make an exception to compete in the Olympics this summer in Paris.

“I mean, the country that literally came and saved me and gave me back my life, to be able to go and represent for that same country and bring home gold ― that would be the icing on the cake,” said the two-time Olympic gold medalist.

Griner was sentenced to a nine-year prison sentence for drug possession but was released in December 2022 after serving 10 months in prison as part of a rare prisoner exchange. The Russian government agreed to free her, but would not agree to free former Marine Paul Whelan, who has been detained since 2018 on suspicion of spying on the United States.

According to her, if she could have made the exchange, she would have included “Paul and brought him home with her. … No one should be left behind.”

As Griner talked about the impact of the arrest and prison stint, tears came to her eyes. “I don’t think I’ve really gotten through it all the way,” she 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.”

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