Brittney Griner Details Just How Bad Russian Prisons Really Are

WNBA star Brittney Griner on Wednesday recounted her time in a Russian prison for most of 2022, describing cold, moldy conditions and having to use toothpaste that had expired around the time George W. Bush left office.

In a 20/20 interview with Good Morning America co-anchor Robin Roberts ahead of the release of her memoir, Coming Home, Griner said it was a “mental lapse” that led to her detainment for bringing vape cartridges with cannabis oil into the country, which is illegal.

Her packing the morning of her flight to Russia to play in the Russian Premier League during the WNBA off-season was hurried due to a late start, she said, and involved “just throwing all my stuff in there and zipping it up and saying, ‘OK, I’m ready.’”

After airport security inspected her bag, she realized her error.

“I’m just like, ‘Oh, my God.’ Like, ‘How did I make this mistake? How was I this absent-minded and made this huge mistake?’” she said. “I could just visualize everything I worked so hard for just crumbling and going away.”

Once she had been detained and was awaiting trial, the prison experience was poor, she said.

“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. “From the middle of my shin to my feet stuck through the bars, which, in prison, you really don’t want to stick your leg and arm through bars…[because] someone could go up and grab it, break it, twist it. And that’s what was going through my mind.”

Griner also recalled long stretches without having toilet paper, and toothpaste that expired “like 15 years ago.”

“We used to put it on the black mold to kill the mold on the walls,” she said.

Griner credited her cellmate for helping her navigate her time there, for instance by translating.

After Griner’s sentencing in August to nine years in prison, she was moved to a penal colony and worked cutting fabric for Russian soldiers’ uniforms, video of which was captured by Russian authorities and played on Good Morning America.

Griner said of the conditions there: “Really cold. It’s a work camp. You go there to work. There’s no rest.”

The Phoenix Mercury center had to cut off her dreadlocks because they were hard to dry and were making her sick. Also, she said, “we had spiders above my bed making nests.”

Griner was freed in December 2022 as part of a prisoner swap, with Russia getting Viktor Bout, a Russian arms dealer known as “the merchant of death.”

Griner’s full interview airs Wednesday at 10 P.M. on ABC.

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