In a different world, Brittney Griner would be spending her thirty-second birthday with her devoted wife, Cherelle Griner. Instead, the WNBA star is spending the day in a Russian jail cell thousands of miles from the people who love her.
The stakes right now for the two-time gold medalist could not be higher. In August, she was sentenced to nine years in a Russian prison for drug smuggling and possession after customs officials claimed to find hashish oil cartridges in her luggage. And next week, she has a court date set to appeal the decision.
President Biden has vowed to bring Griner, who he says Russia is “wrongfully detaining,” home. But Russian officials have cast doubt on whether Biden will be able to make good on his promise.
An aide to Russian President Vladimir Putin said that her release was not a priority to the Russian President.
Being left behind by the U.S. government in Russia is one of Griner’s biggest fears, says her wife.
“She’s very afraid about being left and forgotten in Russia, or just completely used to the point of her detriment,” Cherelle said in an interview with CBS. “She’s saying things to me like, ‘My life just don’t even matter no more.”
If Griner loses her appeal, she could be sent straight to prison or a labor camp. Her lawyer, Alexander Boykov, relayed Griner’s concerns about where Russian authorities will send her. “She fears it will be one with miserable or inhumane conditions,” said Boykov in a press conference
The fact that she is a queer Black woman detained in a country with strict anti-LGBTQ+ laws only heightens the concerns over Griner’s safety.
In the same press conference, Boykov shared Griner’s fears that the United States would be unwilling or unable to give Russia what they’re asking for to secure her release:
“She is not yet absolutely convinced that America will be able to take her home,” Boykov said. “She is very worried about what the price of that will be, and she is afraid that she will have to serve the whole sentence here in Russia.”
Back in the United States, all Griner’s wife, Cherelle, can do is keep making noise about Griner’s arrest and hope she comes home to her.
“I’ve felt every minute of the grueling seven months without her,” wrote Cherelle Griner in a statement to ESPN. “I look forward to the day my wife is back home.”