Brittney Griner Details 'Less Than Human' Conditions In Russian Prison

2020 robin roberts brittney griner

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Brittney Griner is opening up about her 10-month ordeal in a Russian penal colony for the first time.

The WNBA star, 33, has answered questions about her imprisonment before, but never agreed to a sit-down interview—until now. She discussed the detainment with Good Morning America host Robin Roberts in a new primetime special from 20/20 and ABC News Studios on May 1, shedding light on the deplorable conditions of her detainment. Those included frigid temperatures, hard labor, and spider infestations, amongst other horrors.

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"The mattress had a huge blood stain on it," she recalled. "I had no soap, no toilet paper."

The prisoners even used the provided toothpaste to kill the black mold on the walls, since the product itself was expired and over 15 years old.

She also shared the mental toll the ordeal had on her, telling Robin, "I could just visualize everything I worked so hard for just crumbling and going away."

She even contemplated suicide, saying, "I felt like leaving here so badly."

The interview comes ahead of Brittney's upcoming memoir, Coming Home, which will focus on her nearly year-long imprisonment in Russia. The ordeal first began when she was arrested in February 2022 for possessing vape cartridges containing cannabis oil. She was sentenced to nine years in prison and ultimately freed in December of that same year, in a prisoner swap for Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout.

So, where is Brittney now? Here’s everything to know.

She’s releasing a memoir this spring.

Brittney has been through a lot, and she’s finally ready to share her story. Her highly-anticipated memoir, entitled Coming Home, drops on May 7.

Coming Home is a story of hope and survival, of before and after,” she wrote in an February Instagram post announcing her book's release date. “Before, on my way to Russia, a place I’ve called my second home, I was excited to win another title. For eight seasons I played there, won there, and lived there for long stretches. A short time later and a world away, I woke up in an after I’d wish on no one.”

The book “begins in a land where my roots developed and is the diary of my heartaches and regrets,” Brittney added. “But, ultimately, the book is also a story of how my family, my faith, and the support of millions who rallied for my rescue helped me endure a nightmare."

In an April 2023 post, the center explained that she hopes her story will draw attention to other wrongfully detained Americans abroad, like former Marine Paul Whelan and journalist Evan Gershkovich.

She’s partnered with ESPN for a documentary about her story.

Brittney's experience abroad will also be told in a documentary, with the basketball star announcing in December that she’s partnered with ESPN and Disney Entertainment Television for several projects on their platforms. This includes a documentary feature from ESPN Films and a scripted series development with ABC Signature, according to ESPN.

“The last two years have been the most harrowing, transformative and illuminating period of my life, and I am grateful to be in a place now to share my story with the world,” Brittney said in a statement at the time.“I’m proud to partner with ESPN and Disney to share this very personal story because of its incredible potential to inspire hope around the world and their proven ability to do just that.”

She told her story in a 20/20 special.

In May, Good Morning America host Robin Roberts sat down with Brittney in a 20/20 special, marking her first sit-down interview about the ordeal. In it, she detailed the "less than human" conditions in the penal colony where she lived, including a bloody mattress, zero sanitary products, freezing temperatures, hard labor, and spider infestations, amongst other horrors.

Brittney got emotional while sharing the suicidal thoughts she experienced during her detainment.

"There were times when you felt like, 'Let me just end it,'" Robin described.

"Yeah. Just didn't think I could get through what I needed to get through," Brittney replied with tears in her eyes. "I felt like leaving here so badly."

Ultimately, Brittney is still working through the ordeal, adding, "I don't think I've really gotten through all the way. At the end of the day, it's my fault. And I let everybody down."

The special also featured interviews with Brittney's wife Cherelle, her agent Lindsay Kagawa Colas, and Special Presidential Envoy of Hostage Affairs Roger Carstens.

She re-signed with the Phoenix Murcury.

Earlier that same month, Brittany announced that she'll once again play with the Phoenix Mercury, where she has played since 2013.

"Phoenix is home," Griner said in an April 2 press release. "The love and support my wife and I have received from the organization, community and X-Factor over the last 11 years has meant everything to us. I’m excited to continue my career in a Mercury jersey and work towards bringing another championship back to the Valley."

Brittney has shared the intense regimen she took to get back into pro shape, telling the New York Times in May 2024 that she created a 100-day conditioning plan to get ready for the 2023 WNBA season. But it wasn't an easy transition: Her "go-to exercises" like planks and curls with 50-pound dumbbells were "nearly impossible" after inadequate nutrition, and she tired easily after chain-smoking in prison, the outlet writes. "It was trying, big time,” she said.

Brittney used to play basketball overseas in the WNBA off-season, but in an April press conference, she will no longer do that, per CBS News. “I'm never going overseas to play again unless I'm representing my country at the Olympics,” she said. “As much as I would love to pay my light bill for the love of the game, I can't.”

She doesn't want to take overseas vacations, either, fearing she could become a target for a hostage situation. “If I go to the wrong country,” she told the Times, “they could literally just grab me.”

Now, thanks to renewed attention on the W thanks to stars like Caitlin Clark and Angel Reese, Brittney looks forward to 2025, when WNBA contracts are renegotiated to include better security, new pay structures, and maternity support, amongst other conditions. "I’ve always talked about that, but I’m seeing it more now,” she told the Times.

She could be headed to the Olympics this summer.

On March 28, Team USA released the names of 14 players who were selected for Team USA's training camp in Cleveland, Brittney's included. Also among those names? University of Iowa star Caitlin Clark.

By making the camp, Brittney is now in the pool of candidates who could play for Team USA in the 2024 Olympics, per Bleacher Report.

Of course, this isn't the first time Brittney has represented her country at an international level. She helped lead the U.S. women's national basketball team to gold medals at the 2016 Rio Olympics and 2020 Tokyo games.

She and Cherelle are expecting their first child.

Brittney’s wife Cherelle was very vocal about getting her wife back during her 10-month detainment in Russia. Now, the two are making up for lost time.

Most recently, Brittney shared a sweet photo of herself and Cherelle cuddling on Valentine’s Day, along with the message, “When I think of L.O.V.E. the first and only thing that comes to mind is Y.O.U❤️.”

And, in even better news, the couple just revealed that they’re expecting their first child together.

“Can’t believe we’re less than three months away from meeting our favorite human being 🤍 #BabyGrinerComingSoon #July2024,” they wrote in an April 2024 joint statement on Instagram. In the photos, Cherelle's bump can be seen next to their hands and ultrasounds of their little bundle of joy.

She cut her locs during her imprisonment.

Brittany, who is known for her signature hairstyle, recently shared that she cut her locs in prison as an act of empowerment.

During her detainment, her locs never fully dried after a shower, and thanks to the frigid conditions, they frequently froze. Brittney feared catching pneumonia, so she asked a woman at the makeshift prison salon to cut her hair.

“The cut was horrible, but it wasn’t as bad as it could have been,” she told the New York Times. “Minus the bars on the window, I kind of felt like I was in an actual shop right now. At least I can get away in here a little bit.”

She uses nature and therapy to heal.

Brittney likes getting out into the natural world to ground herself. She especially loves off-roading in the mountains near her home, which she said is a coping mechanism for her.

“That’s a big thing for me—getting away from the screens and the cameras,” she told the Times. “It feels like time slows down when I’m in nature.”

She has also been through therapy to help her process the ordeal. Her brain is different after the trauma, as is her life, she told the newspaper.

One of her biggest markers of recovery has been getting her words back. When she first arrived home, she had difficulty expressing herself. “I felt like I went backward," she said.

Where does Brittney Griner live?

Brittney lives in Phoenix, where the Phoenix Mercury are based. She resides there with her wife, Cherelle.

Can't wait to see what's next for you, Brittney!

If you or someone you know needs mental health assistance, call or text 988, or visit to access online chat from the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline. This free, confidential crisis hotline is available to everyone 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

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