Brittney Griner Details Horrors Of Russian Prison: 'I Felt Less Than Human'

Brittney Griner, the WNBA star who was taken prisoner in Russia two years ago over cannabis possession, detailed the harsh prison conditions that made her consider taking her own life in a new interview that aired Wednesday.

“I felt less than human,” Griner, who plays for the Phoenix Mercury, told ABC News’ “20/20” host Robin Roberts of her 10 months in Russian captivity.

Her prison cell’s toilet was merely a hole in the ground and she had to use one of her ripped-up T-shirts as toiler paper. She said her bed and uniform were far too small for her 6-foot-9-inch frame, showing Roberts a pair of extra-long pants her cellmate custom-made her because she was so cold.

Brittney Griner speaks to her lawyers from inside a cage in a Moscow courtroom in July 2022.
Brittney Griner speaks to her lawyers from inside a cage in a Moscow courtroom in July 2022. via Associated Press

The basketball star, who was detained at a Moscow airport in February 2022 when authorities found a small amount of cannabis oil in her luggage, said things got worse when she was transferred to another correctional colony. Her cell there was filled with “dirt and grime” and “bloodstains,” she said, adding that she was fed porridge “that was more like cement,” was allowed one roll of toilet paper a month and was given toothpaste that had expired 15 years earlier.

Often, she recalled, she was left outside in the bitter cold Russian winter for hours at a time. Her locs froze, she said, and spiders built a nest in her hair.

“I didn’t think I could get through what I needed to get through,” Griner said, adding that she considered taking her own life but worried Russian authorities wouldn’t return her body to her family.

“I can’t put them through that. I have to endure this,” she recalled thinking.

Griner said she will no longer play overseas, despite highly lucrative basketball opportunities in Russia that dwarf WNBA pay. But she will make an exception to compete in the Paris Olympics this summer.

Post-release, Griner speaks during the WNBA's media day in May 2023.
Post-release, Griner speaks during the WNBA's media day in May 2023. via Associated Press

“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 Griner, a two-time Olympic gold medalist.

The United States secured Griner’s release in a rare prisoner exchange after she was given a nine-year sentence for drug possession. Russian officials agreed to free her, but would not agree to the release of former Marine Paul Whelan, who’s been detained since 2018 on suspicion of spying for the U.S.

Paul’s continued detainment saddens Griner. “No one should be left behind,” she told Roberts.

Evan Gershkovich, a reporter for The Wall Street Journal, has also been in Russian custody for the past year, despite demands for his release from President Joe Biden. He’s been held there on accusations of espionage, despite having full press credentials from Russia’s foreign ministry.

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