(CNN) — Finally back on American soil after nearly 10 months in a Russian prison, WNBA star Brittney Griner is spending time at a medical facility in Texas before returning to her normal life.
The basketball star — who was freed last Thursday as part of a US-Russia prisoner swap for notorious arms dealer Victor Bout — arrived at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio on Friday morning for a routine evaluation. , And the authorities have not specified how long. It will be there.
Former New Mexico governor Bill Richardson told CNN on Sunday, “I think it’s going to take a few more days for him to come out.” Richardson and his center work privately on behalf of the families of hostages and detainees. He previously traveled to Russia to discuss the release of Griner, as well as former US Marine Paul Whelan, who remains in custody.
Griner’s release through a prisoner swap took months of negotiations and months of imprisonment after the basketball star was arrested on drug charges at a Russian airport in February and later sentenced to nine years in prison. The end is marked.
The Texas facility in which Griner is being held will be opposite the Russian penal colony where he was held prior to his release.
During his time there, Griner had to cut off his now famous dreadlocks to make life easier during the Russian winter, Griner’s Russian lawyer, Maria Blagovolina, told ESPN and confirmed to CNN.
Her lawyer said most of the women in the penal colony worked sewing uniforms, but the seven-foot Olympic gold medalist was too tall to sit at a workbench and her hands were too large to handle the sewing, so she worked all day. Used to take clothes. ,
“We are now focused on ensuring that the well-being of Britney and her family is a priority and that all available assistance is provided appropriately,” US State Department Principal Deputy Spokesman Vedant Patel said at a press conference on Friday. Might.” ,
Richardson said it’s important to give ex-inmates like Griner space as they adjust to life after release.
“We have to give them some space, some time to readjust because they’ve had a terrible experience in these Russian prisons,” said Richardson, who served as the US ambassador to the United Nations in the Clinton administration. ,
“I’m here to take you home”
On the day of his release, Griner realized he was going home, Roger Carstens, the special presidential envoy for hostage affairs who led the prisoner exchange mission in the US, told CNN.
But it didn’t feel real until she was able to get on the plane and tell him, “On behalf of Joe Biden, President of the United States of America, and Tony Blinken, Secretary of State, I’m here to take you home.” Am.” Carstens said.
Carstens described Griner as smart, kind, polite and patriotic, healthy and energetic during the trip.
“When she finally got on the plane back to America, I said, ‘Brittney, you must have been through a lot these past 10 months. Here’s your seat. Please feel free to acquiesce. We’ll give you your seat. Will give space,'” Carstens recalled.
“And he said, ‘Oh no. I’ve been listening to Russian in prison for 10 months, I want to speak. But first of all who are these people? And he went right behind me and went to each member of that team, Looked into their eyes, shook their hands and asked them and said their names, made a personal connection with them. It was really amazing,” Carstens said.
He described how Griner spent 12 hours of the 18-hour flight talking to him about “everything under the sun”.
Griner’s friend, WNBA player Angel McCoughtry, said she knew Griner would need time and space, but believed she would eventually return to the basketball court.
“We missed him last year. It wasn’t the same in the WNBA without her,” McCoughtry said. “We don’t start until May, so it gives her a few months to recover and get in shape and smell the American air again.”
“We all want to see her, but we’re going to give her the time and space to be evaluated medically, mentally, emotionally and physically,” WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbart said.
Jorge Toledo, one of the “Citgo 6,” spoke to CNN on Saturday about how it can take time and effort to reintegrate into society after prolonged incarceration. Toledo was released in October, as part of a prisoner exchange, along with other Citgo Corporation oil and gas executives after being detained during a business trip to Venezuela in 2017.
After spending five years in captivity, Toledo said he came home with sleep problems and other health problems, and found minor daily tasks such as driving a source of anxiety.
Toledo said it was part of a program in San Antonio that included six days with a group of psychologists. He said the program was “extremely important” to his reinvestment and hoped Griner could tap into similar resources.
The fate of Whalen’s release is unclear
While many celebrate Griner’s return, the prospect of Paul Whelan’s release remains unclear.
Whelan, an American, Irish, British and Canadian citizen, is currently imprisoned in a Russian penal colony after being arrested in December 2018 on charges of espionage, which he denies. He was sentenced to 16 years in prison. He, like Griner, was declared by the US authorities to have been improperly detained.
Now that Griner is back in the US, Richardson said he is optimistic about Whelan’s release, noting that Russia had previously offered a trade for Whelan.
The US tried to persuade Russia to swap both Griner and Whalen for the bout, but Russian officials did not budge from the case, with Russia saying the Americans’ cases were based on the charges they faced. was handled in different ways.
President Joe Biden said last week, “It was not a choice which American to bring home.” “Unfortunately, for completely illegitimate reasons, Russia is approaching Paul’s case differently than Britney’s. And while we still haven’t managed to secure Paul’s release, we are not giving up.” . we never give up”.
Whalen said he was glad Griner was released, but told CNN: “I am very disappointed that more has not been done to secure my release, especially as this is the fourth anniversary of my arrest. ”