Brittney Griner talks candidly about her new book, Russia and Recovery

When she arrived in Moscow, she stopped at customs for her transfer flight to Yekaterinburg, a smaller city where her Russian team was based. She loaded her carry-on luggage onto the conveyor belt at the security checkpoint and prepared to walk through the metal detector. She saw officers pulling people out of the line – all foreigners. “They picked anyone who didn’t look Russian,” she said. “I just felt like they were looking for something.”

When they marked her bags, Griner wasn’t too concerned at first. This was her eighth season in Russia; she paid taxes there and knew the country and its laws. The customs officer asked her to search her own belongings, which she found unusual. As soon as she felt the cannabis oil cartridge in an inner zippered pocket in her backpack, her stomach dropped. Medical marijuana had been prescribed by a doctor in Arizona to treat her chronic pain, but it was illegal in Russia. “I was like, Oh, (expletive). Oh, this is about to get bad,” she told me, and proceeded to describe the day’s events. Another cartridge was found in a rolling bag. She panicked and called and texted Cherelle and her family. Nobody answered. It was the middle of the night in the United States and they were all asleep.

Griner was told to wait while the officer took the cartridges for testing, along with her passport. Other officials arrived and demanded she sign a document in Russian. NyetShe replied, pushing it away. She used Google Translate to look up another word: lawyer, which means ‘lawyer’. They pressured her to sign until she nodded and wrote her name. The officers took her outside, loaded her into an unofficial-looking sedan and drove her to a brick building. The officials later returned with terrifying news: They had tested her cartridges and said they found a total of 0.7 grams of cannabis oil in two vape pens. Griner was charged with illegal drug possession and smuggling a “significant amount” of narcotics into the country, which carries a penalty of up to ten years in prison and a fine of one million rubles, which was about $15,000 at the time.

Cherelle and Grinner’s agent, Lindsay Colas, was awake by now. Griner could have sent a location pin via WhatsApp showing the location where she was being held, and Colas frantically arranged for a Russian lawyer, Alex Boykov, to meet her. When Boykov arrived, investigators continued questioning Griner. They wanted to know why she was in Russia, why she brought ‘drugs’, who they were for. She was then handcuffed and forced into another small civilian car. She sat hunched over in pain for hours as she was driven all over Moscow – a sightseeing tour from hell. The car eventually stopped at a local detention center.

Griner was led to a cell and given some bedding for a discolored mattress. Her phone was confiscated, but she was allowed to keep a small bag of personal items, which she packed along with some clothes and her Sudoku book. The room stank: a hole in the ground smeared with feces served as a toilet. The prison guards brought her a milky porridge with a piece of oily fish that made her feel sick. She had no way to clean herself – no towels, soap, toothpaste, shampoo or deodorant. She tore T-shirts into different pieces: for her teeth, for her body, for toilet paper. The bed was too small for her body and her calves dangled over the edge. Her old sports injuries flared up as she lay there, writhing in pain. The next morning, prison guards chuckled outside her cell. She caught a bit of English mixed with Russian: “American” and then “basketball.” They opened the peephole and looked at her. “I’ve never been so dirty in my life,” she said. The humiliation would drive her to consider suicide. “I felt terrible.”

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