Brittney Griner Pleads Guilty to the Crime of Carrying Cannabis, But Not The Intent, As She Waits for Sentencing
In her most recent court appearance, and after multiple continuances extended her initial detention, WNBA star Brittney Griner pled guilty to drug related charges that could earn her a sentence of up to 10 years in a Russian prison. Griner has been held in Penal Colony No. 1 during her detainment, which as of this article, has lasted over 140 days. Though Griner pleaded guilty to bringing the cannabis products into the country, she is adamant there was no intent behind it. During her statement, Griner insists that it was through negligence and rushing to pack for her trip that allowed the THC cartridges to make it in her bag.
“Brittney sets an example of being brave,” says Griner’s attorney Maria Blagovolina, “she decided to take full responsibility for her actions, as she knows she is a role model for many people.”
With a guilty plea entered into public record, the sentencing could commence at any time, though experts believe that this could end up being a situation that becomes highly muddled in a battle of semantics between Russia and the United States. Former US Intelligence Officer and the author of “Putin’s Playbook” Rebekah Koffler says:
Typically these cases are super hard to adjudicate because of the two legal systems. The US doesn’t consider Griner’s arrest to be legitimate. Whereas, Russia insists that it is and wants the US to acknowledge it.
The Department of State recently acknowledged that Griner was wrongfully detained in Russia, and at this point was being considered a hostage, with the Special Presidential Envoy to Hostage Affairs becoming directly involved with her capture. Which, in part, is why Koffler believes the road to release will be a rocky one for Griner, her wife, and the thousands of friends, fans, and advocates calling for her release.
It will be a battle of semantics that will mirror the Russia and U.S. confrontation over control in the Ukraine.
Tensions between the United States and Russia have been a slowly-burning fire, with the war in Ukraine being the seeming fuel most recently thrown upon the flames. In what many in Russia consider retaliation for their involvement, the United States have placed a multitude of sanctions on the Eastern European nation, including ceasing the import of various vaccines in March of this year. In a press conference given after the meeting between Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Belarus Foreign Minister Vladimir Makei, the pair spoke on the idea of a new Iron Curtain.
It [the Iron Curtain] is practically already up… I can only say that from now on, we will not trust neither the Americans, or the EU. We will do everything necessary so that we do not have to depend on them in critical sectors.
Griner, for all intents and purposes, is now a pawn in this heady chess game of international diplomacy currently being played in front of a global audience – and if you’re familiar with the game of chess, then you are familiar with the roles a pawn often plays.
A sacrifice for the bigger picture.
Though Joe Biden has promised Griner’s wife, Cherrelle, that he is doing everything he can to bring Griner home, there is no end-date in sight. For now, Griner will remain detained in Ispravitel’naya Koloniya – 1 (IK1), until her official sentencing.
IK1, or Correctional Colony No. 1, has had its share of problems. Ten years ago, an investigation revealed that four prisoners died, and many more were injured physically and mentally, during torture carried out at the behest of the guards. Documents, testimony, and security footage revealed prisoners were forced to crawl naked to the upstairs bathrooms, where they then had their heads forced under water until near drowning, and were then brutally beaten. In a recent Reuters Investigation, IK2, a penal colony in Pokrov, was also found to have brutal conditions for its prisoners, revealing torture, beatings, sexual assaults, and lack of medical treatment among the many listed offenses.
Though her celebrity status may currently act as a protectant for Griner, nothing is guaranteed. Especially when the additional factors of Griner’s intersectionality are considered. As a Black, Queer, non-gender conforming woman with tattoos, locs, and a penchant for her outspoken activism for the LGBTQ+ community in a country where racism, homophobia, and xenophobia seem to run rampant, could make her a target for state sanctioned violence.
Reading that back, it’s hard to decipher why America and Russia don’t seem to find common ground more often – but in this instance – they stand at opposite sides.
To Russia, she is a criminal.
To America, she is a hostage.
Bring Brittney Griner home.
Chicana journalist, editor, educator, and organizer in Sacramento whose sole focus is to shed light on stories on our most impacted and marginalized communities, but even more importantly, for those stories to humanize those normally left out. She is an Ida B Wells Investigative Journalism Fellow 2022 Finalist, a member of the Parenting Journalists Society, and has bylines in The Courier, The Sacramento Bee, The Americano, Submerge Magazine among others.