“As I sit here in a Russian prison, alone with my thoughts and without the protection of my wife, family, friends, Olympic jersey, or any accomplishments, I’m terrified I might be here forever,” Griner, 31, wrote in the letter, excerpts of which were released by her agent. “On the 4th of July, our family normally honors the service of those who fought for our freedom, including my father who is a Vietnam War Veteran. It hurts thinking about how I usually celebrate this day because freedom means something completely different to me this year.”
Griner, a two-time Olympic gold medalist and a center for the Phoenix Mercury, was detained in February after Russian authorities said they found cannabis oil in her luggage while returning to the country to play for her Russian team. Her trial began last week, and she faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted.
The White House confirmed to The Associated Press that it had received Griner’s letter, adding the U.S. believed Russia was “wrongfully detaining” her. The entirety of the letter is being kept private.
“President Biden has been clear about the need to see all U.S. nationals who are held hostage or wrongfully detained abroad released, including Brittney Griner,” Adrienne Watson, a spokesperson for the National Security Council, told the AP. “The U.S. government continues to work aggressively – using every available means – to bring her home.”
The outlet added fewer than 1% of defendants in Russian criminal cases are acquitted, and those acquittals can be overturned. Legal experts told The New York Times she is likely to be found guilty, and her supporters have urged the White House to arrange a prisoner swap with the Kremlin.
The U.S. and Russia did so in April, exchanging Trevor Reed, a former U.S. Marine held on assault charges, with a Russian pilot sentenced to 20 years in prison in the U.S. for drug trafficking.
“I realize you are dealing with so much, but please don’t forget about me and the other American detainees,” Griner wrote to Biden. “Please do all you can to bring us home.”
Vanessa Nygaard, the coach of the Mercury, addressed the letter Monday during a pre-game news conference.
“It made me cry, you know, just hearing her words talking about her father being a Vietnam vet, her new perspective on freedom, her wanting to be with her family and her teammates, her not knowing if she’ll ever be free again,” Nygaard said, The Guardian reported.