“I did not feel like a human when I was in Russia.”

I didn’t feel like a human: Brittney Griner tells NPR about detention in Russia, and later in the labor camp

The first day I walked into the detention center, I was able to see some scissors and a knife on the table. And I’m like, “Well, this is already different.” A person barely spoke English. It was a lot of pointing and not knowing. I don’t know if anyone knows where I am or if my lawyer knows where I am. The water came out of the sink and I had to drink it. It’s the most filthy place you can think of. It was very cold and very windy, and that made it very hard to stand outside.

Juana, that was the beginning of the story you detail in this book. And for those that may be hearing these details, this part of your story, for the first time, can you describe some of the conditions and situations that you faced, first in detention then during your trial, and later in the labor camp?

Source: ‘I did not feel like a human’: Brittney Griner tells NPR about detention in Russia

Coming Home: Brittney Griner’s life in a criminal colony: What she did and how she ended up living there — all she needed to know about suicide

Brittney Griner: It was a lot like a scene in the movie “Minority Report,” where people talk about a crash and then see their life flash before their eyes. It could be just like the breath is taken out of your lungs. That’s the feeling. And I literally started contemplating everything that could go wrong.

She spoke with All Things Considered host Juana Summers about her experience, and the conversation begins with Griner describing what went through her mind when she was first detained.

Griner has now written a new memoir, Coming Home, in which she recounts being mentally and physically humiliated by guards, of the constant pain from squeezing her 6-foot-9 frame into cramped beds and cage, and cutting her locs because it was so cold that her hair literally froze.

Between her pre-trial detention and sentence, she ended up being held for 10 months before a prisoner swap with a notorious Russian arms dealer secured her freedom.

Griner had been on her way to play a final season with Russia’s EuroLeague team when two vape cartridges, with traces of doctor-prescribed cannabis oil, were found in her luggage while going through customs at a Moscow airport. Months later, she was convicted on drug charges and sentenced to nine years in a Russian penal colony.

She told NPR that she didn’t feel like a human at that point. I came up with a plan on how I could end it.

If you or someone you know may be considering suicide, contact the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline by dialing 9-8-8, or the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741.

On the pay gap of women’s basketball in Russia: Brittney Griner tells NPR about detention, prison and gender inequalities

Summers: You write about your time in Russian detention and prison. You talked a lot about the ways in which you had already been denied certain privileges because of your appearance, because you are a Black queer woman. I can’t help but see parallels between the two situations.

I’ve definitely seen the other side of discrimination against being part of the LGBT community as a Black athlete being told that I need to shut my mouth and play. The pay inequity that we have in between our league and the men’s league — quite frankly, that’s why I was even in Russia in the first place, to make up that pay gap that we have here, unfortunately.

Summers: I want to ask you about that pay gap. I mean, we’re in this moment that is an incredible celebration of women’s sports, of women’s basketball due to some of the superstars in the college game who recently were drafted – people like Caitlin Clark and Angel Reese – and yet, this pay gap that you’ve discussed prominently still persists. How do you arrange those things? How are you feeling about this moment for your sport?

Griner: I mean, I’m feeling hopeful for sure. The ratings show that the people are watching the women’s game. We’ve come a long way. And we’re starting to get into those rooms and being able to advocate for ourselves. And with Caitlin Clark, Angel Reese, even the younger ones coming up, Paige [Bueckers] and JuJu [Watkins], it’s just going to keep getting better. We are going to keep pushing the envelope.

Source: ‘I did not feel like a human’: Brittney Griner tells NPR about detention in Russia

Memories of the First Time you and Your Wife Saw Each Other on the Tilted Air: How I Met Your Father, And Were Back

There is a moment you write about in your book that I’m hoping you can tell us about. It’s when you and your wife Cherelle were reunited on the tarmac in San Antonio, after you spent 293 days separated from one another. What was it like?

The person said Breathtaking. It just reminded me of the first time I ever saw her on campus. It was just, I didn’t think I was going to see her again anytime soon. I was expecting it to take nine years to see my person. I broke down when I saw her through the window. I couldn’t get off that plane quick enough. I’ll never forget that. It was just hugging, hugging, hugging and just holding each other crying.

How are you going to deal with the people suggesting that you don’t deserve a chance to be home with your family after what you’ve been through?

Griner: It hurts. It definitely hurts. It hurts a bit because I’m human. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion. And I can’t let it affect me. If that was up to me, everyone that was in Russia would have come back. And I remember getting on that plane when I did get the chance to come back, and I was really hopeful that Paul was on that plane with me.

Paul Whelan is one of the other Americans who has not been able to return home yet. Throughout the book, you wrote so movingly about the guilt that you felt and about the fact that something that was an honest mistake, as you’ve said, led to months away from your wife and family, months under the conditions that you’ve been telling us about. And you also wrote about how, despite getting forgiveness from your family, from your wife, it was hard to let go of that guilt. How did you make it to a place where you can forgive yourself and let go of that?

A lot of counseling is what he said. It was just talking. Everybody kept telling me to give myself grace, and that was the hardest thing to do. Because at the end of the day, my dad taught me that you just take ownership for things that you’ve done, like willingly and unwillingly. I was required to take responsibility. It’s really hard, it was just. I still feel like I stole my family’s time with me at times, and I think I haven’t forgiven myself. I robbed my wife of some special moments when she graduated, so I was there for her. I will hopefully get to that healing piece eventually.

Source: ‘I did not feel like a human’: Brittney Griner tells NPR about detention in Russia

Coming home: Coming home from a zoo in a Russian prison or her nightmares about a friend’s peephole

Last year, you said you would not play overseas again if you were in the Olympics and the United States. And the Paris Games are less than 100 days away. Do you think that is going to happen for you?

The return back to overseas will be an amazing experience and represent my country that literally came to my rescue. I wouldn’t be here without my country. And to go and potentially win another gold medal for us, it’s just going to mean so much standing on that podium and watching the flag go up.

In the two years since she was released from a Russian prison, there have been recurring nightmares in which she’s back in Russia, and she has a problem with her paperwork.

In her dream, she says, when she goes to the Russian embassy for help, “I’m stuck right back in the cell that I was in, and there’s no talk of coming back. It is right back to where I spent most of the time.

She said that she felt like a zoo animal while in prison. She says that when the guards came to open the peephole, she would hear them laughing and walking down the hallway.

In prison, Griner watched Russian propaganda on television that linked President Biden to the Nazi party, and brushed her teeth with toothpaste that had expired in 2007. “We would put [the toothpaste] on the mold on the walls because it would help kill the mold growing on the walls,” she says.

Griner is preparing for her second season since being reunited with her team, the Phenix Mercury. She writes about her life in basketball and her imprisonment in the memoir, Coming Home.

From World to World: ‘Coming Home’ after nearly 300 days in a Russian prison — [Brittney Griner reflects on coming home]

There was just so many signs of don’t go. I was raised on the morals of finishing what you start. I don’t want to let my teammates down. We were about to win the Euroleague and Russian League, like we always have. So I just wanted to finish it out and then let that be the end.

I’ve traveled here many times in a season. We come back two or three times within one season, [I’ve] been there eight years. So, I’ve never seen so much security. … It was very random. And everybody that was getting pulled to the side looked either American or, you know, non-Russian. The Russians walked in the middle, not getting checked.

It was a life changing event. I definitely just had a moment of just all the horrible thoughts of just never seeing my family, being dragged through the media, through the news outlets, everyone putting in their opinion and all the naysayers having ammunition to just start spewing out all these things about me.

Source: Brittney Griner reflects on ‘Coming Home’ after nearly 300 days in a Russian prison

Borel Griner Reflects on ‘Coming Home’ after nearly 300 days in a Russian Prison: An analogy with a women’s bathroom

You have three toilets and one shower to serve 50-plus women. There isn’t any hot water. I had a bucket and a ladle. So you would take a kettle like a tea kettle, warm up water out the sink, pour it into the bowl, into the bucket. You take the bucket and the ladle into the shower. You just squat in the shower and scoop up the water. And that’s how you take a shower and you have about maybe five minutes because you have about ten, 12 other women waiting in the bathroom area to get into that shower.

Girls would come up to me in school and say that she is not a girl. She is a man. You can listen to her voice. How big is she? So just dealing with that in isolation. This is before sports as well. Before I became the cool athlete, I was the weirdo and the one that was just so different.

Source: Brittney Griner reflects on ‘Coming Home’ after nearly 300 days in a Russian prison

‘Coming Home’ after nearly 300 days in a Russian prison: a reflection on Britney Griner’s “coming home” after almost 300 days of prison life

[In prison] … I was like that spectacle again. When I first [went] into the county cell, and I was in isolation, just the bad thoughts just started creeping in: My life is over. … Who will be alive when I come out? Will my parents still be there? Will my wife and I both make it nine years while locked up? All these bad thoughts started coming in, and it just felt like it would be better if I wasn’t here, maybe.

We have to learn how to be together, but then also have time to heal away from each other too, a little bit. We used to do things we loved before they changed. I loved being all day in the house and the room. I remember that being the reason for the triggering because when I was in the detention center, all I could do was sit on my bed all day. So, I couldn’t do it anymore like that. … We keep the house cold. I hate being cold now. I was off and angry. We realized that I was put in that cell when I was cold. It was just a lot of little things. and we made the right corrections.

Source: Brittney Griner reflects on ‘Coming Home’ after nearly 300 days in a Russian prison

The Journey of a Superstar: A Memorino with Sam, Bethe Ansatz, Molly Seavy-Nesper and Meghan Sullivan

If I would have waited longer to get back into it, I think it would have been even that much harder. Honestly, I knew I needed to start getting in shape if I was going to have a return back to the game. I knew I couldn’t wait anymore. I credit my team, and the belief they have in me, and they did everything they could to help me get back on that court. I was glad I did do it. … I feel like my old self again.

Sam Briger and Thea Chaloner produced and edited this interview for broadcast. Bridget Bentz, Molly Seavy-Nesper and Meghan Sullivan adapted it for the web.

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