Brittney Griner’s wife talks about Russian imprisonment

Ninety-seven days ago, Brittney Griner’s wife woke up around 2 a.m. from the hum of her phone.

“Baby, wake up! They have me in this room! ” Cherelle Griner said Brittney sent her a message. “I do not know what is going on”.

Troubled and noisy, Serel asked who “they” were. Brittney replied that she had been detained while passing through customs in Moscow and that the Russian authorities were going to seize her phone.

The last thing Cherelle had to say to Brittney was call her when she could.

“The phone call never came,” Serel said.

Cherelle shared this story in her first public interview since Brittney was arrested more than three months ago. In a videotaped interview with Robin Roberts, which aired Wednesday morning on ABC’s “Good Morning America,” an emotional Cherelle talked about how difficult this ordeal was for her and urged President Biden to do whatever it takes to to quickly bring Brittney home.

“I keep hearing that, you know, he has the power. He’s a political pawn,” Cherelle told Roberts. “Well, if they keep it because they want you to do something, then I want you to do it.”

Brittney has been behind bars since she flew to Moscow on February 17, and Russian customs officials reportedly found vapor cartridges containing hashish oil in her luggage. He is wanted for large-scale drug trafficking and faces up to 10 years in prison in Russia if convicted.

Earlier this month, the State Department reassigned Britney “unjustifiably detained.” This means that her case is now being handled by the Office of the President’s Special Envoy for Hostage Affairs and that the United States is now more aggressive in its efforts to negotiate her release and bring her home.

While Vladimir Putin’s attack on Ukraine has brought US-Russia relations to the lowest point since the Cold War, the two countries continue to maintain open channels of communication. This was revealed last month when the Biden government carried out an unexpected exchange of prisoners, exchanging former Marine Trevor Reed with Konstantin Yaroshenko, a Russian pilot convicted of conspiracy to smuggle cocaine into the United States.

Brittney Griner leaves the courtroom after a hearing just outside Moscow on Friday, May 13. Griner, a two-time Olympic gold medalist, was arrested at Moscow airport in February after cartridges containing hemp oil were allegedly found in her luggage. (AP)

Cherelle said she had been in contact with the families of Reed and Paul Whelan, another former Marine who the U.S. believes is being held illegally in Russia. Whelan was arrested in December 2018 and later sentenced to 16 years in prison on espionage-related charges.

“Although they are separate people, separate roles, nothing more than what they go through in Russia, obviously I also want him back,” Cherelle said. “You do not want anyone to be there, to go through what is going on.”

Although Brittney’s family and friends were initially instructed to remain silent about her condition in the hope that it could be resolved quickly behind the scenes, their strategy has changed since the United States declared her a political prisoner. In recent weeks, the WNBA has honored Brittney with special BG42 floor decals, and players and coaches have spoken on her behalf.

“It comforts BG,” Cherelle said in tears. “It lets her know she has not been forgotten.”

When Cherelle first heard the news of Brittney’s arrest, she admitted that she lay on the couch for a week and “cried my eyes”. After that she said that she managed to get herself and even complete her JD from the Law School of the Central University of North Carolina.

Cherelle has not heard Brittney’s voice since the day she was arrested, but they communicate through occasional heartfelt letters and second-hand conversations with Brittney’s Russian lawyer. When Brittney heard that Cherelle was talking to “Good Morning America,” she sent a message through her lawyer that she wanted her agent to send Cherelle a bouquet of red roses.

Cherelle said she had not spoken directly to Biden, but that she had recently had a conversation with Secretary of State Antony Blinken. When asked by Roberts if she felt Blinken was being honest when she said Brittney was a “top priority”, Cherelle admitted she was not sure.

“You say it’s the top priority, but I want to see it,” Cherelle said. “And I feel like I want to see BG on American soil.”

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