Brittney Griner says she considered suicide during her first weeks in Russian prison

Content Warning: This story contains depictions of suicide. If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24 hours a day at 1-800-273-8255.

More than two years since the day that changed her life, Brittney Griner has provided her first account of her arrest in Russia and the horrors that followed.

Griner sat down for an hour-long interview with ABC's Robin Roberts ahead of the release of her memoir "Coming Home" on May 7, going through everything from her arrest at a Moscow airport for possession of a vape cartridge to her life in Russian prison to life back in the United States after her release.

She didn't hide how low she reached:

“I wanted to take my life more than once in the first weeks ... I felt like leaving here so badly."

Griner said she decided against taking her life partially because she worried Russian authorities wouldn't release her body to her family.

The mistake that landed Griner in prison was 0.7 grams of hash oil, which contains THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. She described her possession as "absent-minded" and a "mental lapse" while packing, comparing it to more mundane mistakes like forgetting keys in your car, but on "a more grand scale."

The Russian legal system had little sympathy for the nine-time WNBA All-Star. Her first stop was a prison known as IK-1:

"The mattress had a huge blood stain on it. They give you these thin two sheets, so you're basically laying on bars. The middle of my shin to my feet stuck through the bars which, in prison, you don't really want to stick your leg and arms through bars because someone go up and grab it, twist it, break it and that's what was going through my mind."

Griner confirmed she was only allowed one roll of toilet paper for an entire month, receiving nothing in some months, and had to use toothpaste that was 15 years past its expiration date:

"We used to put it on the black mold to kill the mold on the walls."

She credited a cellmate named Alana for helping her survive in a prison where she was well-known as "The American" or "The Basketball Player."

CLEVELAND, OHIO - APRIL 05: Brittney Griner looks on in the second half during the NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament Final Four semifinal game between the UConn Huskies and the Iowa Hawkeyes at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse on April 05, 2024 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)
Brittney Griner wanted Paul Whelan to come back with her. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

Then came IK-2, a notorious work camp where she said she was forced to cut off her dreadlocks because of the freezing temperatures:

"We had spiders above my bed making nests. My dreads started to freeze. They would just stay wet and cold and I was getting too sick. You gotta do what you gotta do to survive."

Griner pleaded guilty during her trial and was sentenced to nine years in prison, but was released in Dec. 2022 after the United States struck a deal to exchange her with convicted arms trafficker Viktor Bout. Her fate was linked to fellow American Paul Whelan, whose family hoped he could also return home in the deal. The Russians refused, likely with the intent to foment a backlash against the U.S. government.

Griner has since called for Whelan's release as she adjusts to life back in America, and continued to do so with ABC when recalling her disappointment upon seeing Whelan wasn't on the plane with her:

“I walked on and didn’t see him, maybe he’s next. Maybe they will bring him next,” she said. “They closed the door and I was like, are you serious? You’re not going to let this man come home now.”