Brittney Griner playing for the Phoenix Mercury. GETTY IMAGES

Two-time Olympic gold medalist and WNBA star Brittney Griner reflects on the costly mistake that landed her in a Russian prison in an exclusive interview. In a 20/20 special for the American Broadcasting Company (ABC), the 33-year-old Phoenix Mercury player sat down with TV host Robin Roberts to talk about her life, career, and her 2022 arrest and imprisonment in Russia.

“I did not want to go,” Griner confessed, referring to that fateful flight to Sheremetyevo International Airport where officials detained her for carrying vape cartridges containing cannabis oil; a substance illegal in Russia.

The basketball star had been playing in Russia for seven years and —tired of constantly travelling and wanting more time with her partner—was already thinking of winding down her career Russian basketball career. Griner plays overseas during the WNBA off-season to “make a living for my family”, she told Roberts. Despite being one of the top WNBA stars, the star center says her WNBA salary was five times less than what she earned in Russia. 

“Pay equity is not what we want it to be,” Griner said, referring to the WNBA.

“So I have to go overseas and Russia was the place that gave me that financial stability.”

However, her stints in the country would go from private planes and luxury hotels to the thin, bloody mattress and mouldy walls of her cell in the work camp Griner would spend her detainment in. 

Griner, after pleading guilty to drug charges, was sentenced to nine years in prison for the cannabis oil found on her and was transferred to a penal colony in the Russian region of Mordovia - a work camp where her job was cutting fabric for Russian military uniforms.

“The mattress had a huge blood stain on it and they give you these thin two sheets so you’re basically laying on bars,” Griner recounted her experience in her cell. 

“From the middle of my shin to my feet, [they] stuck through the bar, which in prison you don’t really want to stick your leg and arm through bars because someone could go up and grab it, break it, twist it and that was what was going through my mind.”

Prisoners were given meagre provisions, a toilet roll per month and toothpaste that had been expired for 15 years. Griner recalls two or three months of not having any provisions at all. Nearly 10 months after her airport arrest, Brittney Griner finally came back home to the United States in high-profile prisoner exchange, where she was swapped with notorious arms dealer Viktor Bout. 

Griner is set to release her memoir, “Coming Home”, this Tuesday.