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WNBA star Brittney Griner opens up about harrowing Russian detention in exclusive “20/20” special

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(NEW YORK) — WNBA star Brittney Griner, who was released from Russian detention in a prisoner swap in December 2022, shared her story for the first time and reflected on the hopelessness she experienced during her monthslong confinement in an exclusive interview that will air May 1 on a special edition of ABC News’ 20/20. ABC’s Good Morning America will have a first look earlier that day.

“I was just so scared for everything because there’s so much unknown,” Griner told GMA co-anchor Robin Roberts.

Griner, 33, a two-time Olympic gold medalist and a nine-time WNBA All-Star who plays for the Phoenix Mercury, was detained on Feb. 17, 2022, at Sheremetyevo International Airport in Khimki after she was accused of having vape cartridges containing hashish oil, which is illegal in the country. Griner was returning to Russia to play during the WNBA’s off-season.

“My life is over right here,” Griner said when asked by Roberts what she was thinking when she realized that she had left the cartridges in her luggage.

Griner pleaded guilty to drug charges on July 7, 2022, saying that the vape cartridges containing hashish oil were in her luggage unintentionally. She testified that she had “no intention” of breaking Russian law and packed the cartridges by accident.

The U.S. classified Griner’s case as “wrongfully detained” in May 2022 and worked for months to secure her freedom. Throughout the Houston native’s detention, top athletes in the WNBA and NBA rallied for Griner on and off the court, raising awareness about her case through public statements, putting pressure on the Biden White House to secure her release.

Griner was sentenced to nine years in prison. Her attorneys filed an appeal but a judge rejected it on Oct. 25, 2022.

After her sentencing, Griner was transferred to a penal colony in the Russian region of Mordovia.

“The mattress had a huge blood stain on it. I had no soap, no toilet paper. That was the moment where I just felt less than a human,” Griner told Roberts as she reflected on her time in prison.

Griner said in her interview with Roberts that there were times when she thought about ending her life.

“I just didn’t think I could get through what I needed to get through,” she said.

Griner was released on Dec. 8, 2022, in a prisoner exchange. The U.S. agreed to swap Griner for convicted Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout.

Since her release, Griner has become an outspoken advocate for other Americans wrongfully detained overseas, including Paul Whelan and Evan Gershkovich who are imprisoned in Russia.

Griner broke her silence following her release in a heartfelt Instagram post on Dec. 16, 2022, where she thanked those who advocated for her release, including her wife Cherelle Griner and her WNBA family.

Griner announced exclusively to GMA on Feb. 6 that she is set to release a new memoir on May 7 titled, Coming Home — a book that will detail her harrowing incarceration in Russia and subsequent release.

“Coming Home begins in a land where my roots developed and is the diary of my heartaches and regrets,” Griner said in a statement. “But, ultimately, the book is also a story of how my family, my faith, and the support of millions who rallied for my rescue helped me endure a nightmare.”

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