WNBA star and Olympian Brittney Griner writes that she felt she was being used as a “pawn” by Russian President Vladimir Putin when she was arrested and imprisoned just weeks before he invaded Ukraine in 2022.

The Phoenix Mercury star’s memoir “Coming Home,” which debuted Tuesday at No. 1 on Amazon’s best-sellers list, lays out in detail the events leading up to her arrest, the challenges of her nearly 10-month detainment in some of Russia’s most notorious penal colonies, the agony of waiting to be released — and so much more, all in 300 pages. In one section, she describes the experience of being a Black gay woman in a Russian prison under Putin. 

“Black lives matter,” Griner wrote. “We hear that in the streets, but what is a Black life really worth? Judging by our history, it seems not much, and even less if you’re gay. For Putin, my worth was as a pawn. My arrest gave him leverage in his clash with the West. He was well aware of America’s long history of racial tensions, and he knew how to use that to his benefit.”

In February 2022, Griner traveled to Russia to play her eighth season in the country’s women’s basketball league. She was arrested after two vials of cannabis oil, totaling less than a gram, were found in her luggage at the airport in Moscow. She pleaded guilty to drug charges and was sentenced to nine years in prison. 

Griner wrote that she was distressed about having disappointed her closely knit family and Black people in general. 

When the news of her arrest broke, Griner wrote: “I cried because I’d let down my father. The Griner name was now stained around the globe: dopehead, drug dealer, dumb. I hurt because I knew I’d handed the world a weapon. When you’re Black, your behavior is never just about you. It’s about your entire community.” 

Though she said she wears her Blackness with pride, Griner said she felt as though her actions “shamed my people.”

“Blackness doesn’t make you less, but it does frame your life,” she wrote. “When you walk into a room, so does race. Frankly, it shows up before you do. It colors every conversation, shapes how you’re viewed, determines whether you’re even heard. From the day you get here, Blackness hangs over everything, from comments about your hair (‘Can I touch it?’) to mentions that certain Black people are ‘smart’ (’cause it’s assumed we’re idiots). The message comes through loud and clear: You’re not one of us, you’re less.”

It was so bad that Griner said she contemplated suicide in the early days of incarceration. She wrote that she’d spend her nights “listing ways I could end my misery.” She thought better of it. And after many sleepless nights, she stopped caring about the freezing temperatures, that her long legs dangled off the mattress and that the bed springs poked into her body. “I was a legit zombie,” she said.  

By the time Griner was allowed to shower there, she was shocked at the repulsive conditions, but knew she had to get in the water. 

“In the WNBA, my teammates and I joked about the prison showers — a big space with spouts spread around. This was the real thing,” she wrote. “It was nasty, exposed pipes on every wall. Long hair strands all over the tile floor and gathered in the drains. A bloody tampon was tucked between two pipes. As much as I was disgusted by the scene, I was just as repulsed by my stench.”

Correctional Colony No. 1, also known as IK-1, is a former orphanage converted into a prison about 50 miles from Moscow, which would take about two hours to drive in Russia’s notorious traffic. Griner had spent the time being transported there handcuffed, with her 6-foot-9 frame folded in the back of a vehicle not equipped for someone her height. She was also deeply afraid, not knowing what to expect, but knowing that where she was headed was no place anyone would want to be.

Brittney Griner is escorted by police officers in Russia while in handcuffs
Griner was arrested and imprisoned weeks before Russia invaded Ukraine in 2022.Kirill Kudryavtsev / AFP via Getty Images file

When there, she received myriad instructions before making it to the shower. 

“I undressed and found the cleanest part of the floor,” she wrote. “I turned the faucet on, and rusty brown water came spouting out.”

Once she got over the color, “hot water felt so good on my skin. I closed my eyes tight, trying to forget where I was. I thought of Relle [her wife] and home and all I had left behind. Down the water slid from my dreads onto the floor splashing away the hell I endured. I stayed in there a good 30 minutes until I banged on the door for the guard to let me out. That was the nastiest shower I’d ever taken. It was also the best.”

She wrote about her increased fear when transferred to an even more notorious labor camp, Correctional Colony No. 2 or IK-2, 300 miles east of Moscow. It was known for “horrid conditions, hard labor and inmate torture,” Griner wrote. And temperatures that dipped to 5 below zero. 

“When I entered IK-2, I flipped a switch in my head. I was an inmate now, I told myself.”

She worked all day, making military uniforms, shoveling snow, breaking up ice. 

At IK-2, “I had been frozen, sick, got my hair chopped off. The girl I was lay on a heap of dreads on a concrete floor. … At a labor camp in Russia in the dead of winter, I learned how tough I was.”

Tough, but battered. The experience left her with bouts of “depression, with long stretches of silence and heartache.” One thing that helped her push through the depression and realities of incarceration, she said, were the uplifting letters from family and friends, as well as the mail she received from strangers. Now that she’s returned to the U.S., she’s back to playing for the Mercury. She’s also seeing a therapist. 

The Biden administration negotiated a trade for her release in December 2022: Griner would be released in exchange for Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, known as the “Merchant of Death.” Before freedom, she experienced one last humiliation: Russian guards ordering her to strip naked as they took photos. 

“I didn’t cover my privates, nor did I cower or tremble,” she wrote. “I sense they expected me to fall apart. … I stood tall. . . I felt like weeping, but I had no tears left.” 

She wrote that she keeps one remaining vow: “I will not rest until Paul Whelan is released,” she said of the former Marine who has been detained in Russia since 2018 on accusations of spying. The U.S. denies the charges.

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Source: | This article originally belongs to Nbcnews.com

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