WNBA Star Brittney Griner Shines Light on Prison Trauma, Advocates for Detained Americans

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This story revolves around an emblematic figure of basketball, Brittney Griner, a WNBA All-Star who steadily emerges into a new normal after an unnerving Russian prison stint that spanned over 10 grueling months. Stand at 6-foot-8, the former center isn’t as recognizable as she used to be. The tangles of dreadlocks that once framed her face have disappeared, proving too difficult to upkeep during her imprisonment.

Her priorities have irrevocably shifted. Mental health has vaulted to the forefront as she engages in regular therapeutic sessions initiated to help her navigate the shadows of her incarceration experiences. Meanwhile, Griner stands as a beacon of hope, advocating passionately for the return of fellow Americans still enduring their own overseas detention.

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She has stood before President Joe Biden twice post-release, including a recent encounter in Phoenix. “Discussing a couple of people with him, that keeps the issue alive, visible,” commented Griner in a phone interview, expressing her gumption to ensure the ongoing plight of imprisoned Americans remains unrelenting in its exposure and people remain accountable.

Her detention unfolded in February 2022 at a Moscow airport where Russian authorities discovered vape cartridges, allegedly containing cannabis oil, in her luggage. Post-release, Griner has been passionately reminiscing her journey in a heartrending memoir titled “Coming Home” that is due to hit shelves this Tuesday.

Griner desires to paint a realistic, vivid picture through her narrative, shedding raw light on the unimaginable conditions detainees often face. “I didn’t hold back any details,” she explained. Baring the intricacies of her experience hope to elucidate the conditions that detainees weather.

Griner has not only prioritized rounding out the angle on detainment conditions, but she also stresses the necessity of awareness about other imprisoned Americans languishing in foreign lands. Names like Paul Whelan and Evan Gershkovich haven’t slipped past her. She reflects, “It took a collective to bring me home. Hard decisions have to be made.”

Having interacted with President Biden for the first time at the White House Correspondent’s dinner in 2023 shortly after her return, Griner calls for the momentum to sustain, to ensure every last American returns home safely.

She enthusiastically conjectured ways to amplify the issue’s visibility, be it through families sharing their stories, encouraging letters to Congress, anything that could tip the balance, bring someone home.

However, her overseas basketball playing is over for Griner while she embarks on being a parent with wife Cherelle, who is expecting the couple’s first child. The stints in international leagues during the WNBA offseason are a thing of her past. The only pulls that could drag her across borders now are obligations with Team USA, with sights set on the Paris Olympics this year.

Her Russian prison stint is not the sole reason for this. Her impending parenthood is a fundamental pull to remain stateside. “I need to be present for every event. I don’t want to yank my family abroad. It’s too overwhelming,” she expressed, adding the need for remaining rooted in the U.S.

Struggling with the aftermath of her prison experience, she maintains a steady dialogue with her therapist. She affirmatively states, “Everyone can profit from having someone to converse with. It offers a refreshing perspective on life. Particularly if feeling anxious or wrangling with something, it’s highly beneficial.”

In the wavering journey of mental health and enduring her darkest days in a foreign prison, Griner says the fan letters were her beacon of hope. They reminded her that she wasn’t forgotten, standing as a testament to all she meant to the fans, and she is eager to make her return to the game on May 14 as she enters her 12th year in the league. Brittany Griner, a Phoenix Mercury Star, is resolute on remembering her experience not by its darkness but by the outpouring of support along her way.