Basketball star Brittney Griner said she considered suicide at the start of her nine-year sentence in a Russian labor camp, the result of her 2022 arrest near Moscow for carrying a small amount of cannabis oil.

“I wanted to take my life more than once in the first weeks,” Griner told Robin Roberts on ABC. “I felt like leaving here so badly.”

Griner, a two-time Olympic gold medalist and one of the most renowned women’s basketball players of all time, was freed in a prisoner exchange between the United States and Russia in December 2022. In the interview with Roberts, she described the conditions at IK-2, the Russian corrective colony for female prisoners about 300 miles southeast of Moscow, as “really cold. It’s a work camp, you go there to work. There’s no rest.”

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

While in prison, Griner cut fabric for Russian military uniforms. She described the conditions as unsanitary, with the prisoners using the long-expired toothpaste they were given to clean off the mold in their cells.

Griner explained that, on the day she flew to Russia to join her professional team there, she woke up late at her home in Arizona and ended up “just throwing all my stuff in there and zipping it up,” a packing job that usually was done by her wife, Cherelle. She said she forgot that the two cartridges of cannabis oil – which is legal in Arizona but not in Russia – were in her bag.


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

Griner was freed after the United States released convicted arms dealer Viktor Bout. But before that, she was forced to write a letter to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“They made me write this letter. It was in Russian,” she said. “I had to ask for forgiveness and thanks from their so-called great leader. I didn’t want to do it, but at the same time I wanted to come home.”

She also expressed disappointment that Paul Whelan, a former U.S. Marine who is serving a prison sentence in Russia on espionage charges, was not on the plane coming home with her.

“I walked on and didn’t see him, maybe he’s next. Maybe they will bring him next,” she said. “They closed the door and I was like, are you serious? You’re not going to let this man come home now.”

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