Cherelle Griner Says Brittney Is a 'Hostage' in First Interview Since WNBA Star's 9-Year Sentencing

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In her first interview since her wife, Brittney Griner, was sentenced to nine years in a Russian prison for drug possession, Cherelle Griner told CBS Mornings co-host Gayle King that she is terrified of the WNBA star's fate. 

"It's like a movie for me. I'm like, 'In no world did I ever thought, you know, our president and a foreign nation president would be sitting down having to discuss the freedom of my wife.' And so to me, as much as everybody's telling me a different definition of what B.G. is, it feels to me as if she's a hostage," Cherelle said. 
 
"That must scare you," King replied. 
 
"It terrifies me because, I mean, when you watch movies, like, sometimes those situations don't end well. Sometimes they never get the person back," said Cherelle.

Griner, an eight-time all-star center with the WNBA's Phoenix Mercury and a two-time Olympic gold medalist, was convicted Aug. 4 after police said they found vape canisters containing cannabis oil in her luggage at Moscow's Sheremetyevo Airport.  

On Tuesday, the White House called Griner's upcoming appeal "another sham judicial proceeding," and said President Biden is telling his administration to engage with the Russian government at all levels, to bring Griner home immediately. But for Cherelle Griner the fear of never seeing her wife again is setting in. 

"I mean, this is my life and so I'm sitting there like, 'Do we get her back? Do I ever get to see my wife again?' Like, what happens here? The fact that everything's so unprecedented and everything's, like, changeable I think is a really good word. Like, I feel like every day I'm hearing something new, and so it's just kind of like, it's terrifying," Cherelle said. 

Cherelle also described two very different phone calls she's had with Griner since the athlete was arrested in February. The first time, she was delighted. "It was just so delightful just to hear her voice," Cherelle disclosed about the first call. She thought her wife was okay and that they "could survive this." 

But the second phone call had her worried. "You could hear that she was not okay. If you think about just a person's suffering and when they have suffered to a max…she was at the max that day," Cherelle shared.

Cherelle said that after the second call ended,  "I think I cried for about two, three days straight. It was the most disturbing phone call I'd ever experienced." 

"It's just the most still, I think, moment I've just ever shared with my wife," she added. "I didn't have words."  

"I do believe a crime should warrant a punishment," Cherelle remarked. "But it must be balanced."  

"B.G. has truly suffered beyond her crime already," she added.  

Cherelle said she is hoping a prisoner swap between the U.S. and Russia happens before the upcoming hearing. A recent meeting at the White House reassured her that President Biden is fighting alongside her.  

"He's doing what he can. But there's another party in this situation, and we also are dealing with the need for Russia to have mercy on B.G. as well," Cherelle said.  

She said she fears what will happen if Griner's appeal is denied.  

"Once that hearing is held, and the order is finalized, B.G.'s now in the position where she could be moved to a labor camp," Cherelle said. "My brain can't even fathom it."  

She added that Griner is already struggling as she waits for her freedom.  

"I don't know if she has anything left in her tank to continue to wake up every day and be in a place where she has no one," Cherelle said.  

Cherelle said that her wife is "at her absolute weakest moment in life right now," and fears that she will be forgotten in Russia.  

"She's, like, saying things to me like, 'My life just don't even matter no more,'" Cherelle said. "You know, 'I feel like my life just doesn't matter. Like, I'm just being tossed around, like, for people's enjoyment and gain.'"  

When the WBNA all-star was sentenced in August, she told the courtroom that she made an honest mistake, and that she hoped that the court's ruling doesn't end her life. Cherelle said that as Griner questions if her life matters, she wants her to know that she is fighting to bring her back to the United States.  

"Those are all valid emotions to feel and I don't have answers for, except the fact that your life matters to me, and I wanna get you back home," she said. "I'm gonna continue to pray every day that, you know, the people that are the decision-makers in this situation will have mercy and will sit down, and they will too see that your life matters, and do whatever they can to agree — on terms."   

Cherelle said she felt some hope when she heard about the release of Trevor Reed, the former U.S. Marine who gained his freedom in a prisoner swap between the U.S. and Russia.

"When Trevor Reed was released, you woulda thought that it was Brittney Griner, because that's how happy I was. And I had not met the Reed family yet, but I just know immediately, I went on Instagram and I made a post and I was so happy for his family. Because I know what I'm feeling. And I'm just, like, wow. Like, it ended for them that day. What I'm feeling ended for them that day, and I was so happy," she said. 

The White House said it has a substantial deal on the table, and has urged Russia to consider it, or bring a strong counteroffer.

This article is comprised of two stories originally published by CBS News on Oct. 5 and Oct. 5, 2022.

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