Reflections on Brittney Griner: A Political Prisoner Wrongfully Detained

For sometime it has been my heartfelt intention to write about Brittney Griner, the American basketball star and two-time Olympic gold medalist, who is currently imprisoned in Russia.  In February 2022, Ms. Griner was traveling to Russia to play for a professional women’s league, which she had done for the past several years. While passing through Moscow, “…customs officials said that she had been carrying two vape cartridges with hashish oil in her luggage. ( Ms. Griner had a prescription for cannabis oil to treat physical injuries from her physician in Arizona. A week after Ms. Griner was detained, Russia invaded Ukraine.
In May, the U.S. government re-classified her case as being one of “wrongful detention,” meaning that the Government is now fighting for her release instead of letting the Russian courts have their process (   Miss has now apparently become a pawn now for the Kremlin to gain leverage in negotiating with the United States, as the relationship with Russia worsens by the day.  She is now a central figure in “the latest stage in a legal drama that has shadowed a breakdown in U.S.-Russian relations over the conflict in Ukraine
In August of this year, Ms. Griner was sentenced to serve 9 years in prison.  Her Russian lawyer, called the charge an “unprecedented punishment” for possession of marijuana.  Ms. Griner, already a high-profile basketball player, is someone the Russians want to be imprisoned, for bargaining purposes.
Right now, Ms.Griner spends all of her time in a cell, with the exception of being allowed to go outside and walk around for an hour a dayin a small courtyard.  Imagine being in a foreign country far away from your family, being locked up every day, with no freedom. It’s hard to imagine what Brittany must be experiencing and feeling. It is clear that this is taking a toll on her mental health.  Recently she told her attorney that she felt it felt “too painful” to even think about playing basketball. 
Being wrongfully imprisoned is a tremendous psychological burden to bear

It is understandable that she feels hopeless and does not have the energy to do things she formerly loved to do. The act of being imprisoned exerts a very high psychological toll.  Ms. Griner’s wife, Cherelle, gave an interview to CBS News, revealing that being imprisoned has taken a significant toll on Ms. Griner.  Cherelle Griner went on to elaborate that in a phone call she had with Brittney, “”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” ( 

In a paper, entitled “Psychological Consequences of Wrongful Conviction in Women and the Possibility of Positive Change,” Zieva Dauber Konvisser, Ph.D., writes about the effects of being imprisoned and the process that a person goes through under these conditions.  She states that:

“…dependence on the external constraints of institutional structure and contingencies; hypervigilance, interpersonal distrust and suspicion of threat or personal risk; emotional over-control, alienation and psychological distancing as a defense against exploitation and awareness of the riskiness and unpredictability of emotional investments in relationships; social withdrawal and isolation; incorporation of exploitative informal rules and norms of prison culture; diminished sense of self-worth and personal value; and posttraumatic stress reactions to the pains of imprisonment (

It is sad that individual humans are used as props in a larger political game. I doubt that Miss Griner would have been detained and for so long, if things were not as severe as they are in terms of the United States and its current relationship with Russia. 

President Biden recently stated that Miss Griner is being unlawfully detained.  We know that the state department is working on negotiations as best they can, though Putin seems to be drawing this out for maximum bargaining power. In July 2022, the Secretary of State Anthony Blinken told the press that the State Department had offered “a substantial” prisoner exchange deal, offering to swap the release of arms dealer Viktor Bout, for Ms.Griner, and another wrongfully detained American in Russia, Paul Whelan.  The New York Times reported that President Biden himself “backed” the deal (

This situation gets very complicated when we also factor in Russia’s invasion of  Ukraine.  The U.S., and its European allies imposed heavy sanctions on Russia following the invasion. In early October, the G-7 vowed to support Ukraine “for as long as it takes.”  Mr. Putin has made threats about using nuclear weapons in Ukraine.  Mr. Putin is desperate to win this war. Ms. Griner’s wrongful imprisonment is now a bargaining chip for Mr. Putin.  President Biden, Europe and the rest of the world are trying to manage a delicate situation in that they are trying to support Ukraine, and prevent a nuclear disaster. 


The war in Ukraine is a major complicating factor in bringing Ms. Griner home

On Tuesday, October 25, 2022, a Russian appeals court heard Ms. Griner’s plea to reduce her 9-year prison sentence.  To no one’s surprise, her original sentence was upheld, , “…a decision that in effect sends Griner to serve out her term in a Russian prison colony, even as Moscow and Washington appear set to reengage in talks for a possible prisoner swap that could see her released much sooner” (  In an interview in September, President Biden told CNN that he is “open” to speaking to about Ms. Griner’s case face-to-face with Putin, at a G-20 Summit slated for November 2022 (

No one knows how long it may take to secure her release.  We can only hope that this happens as soon as possible.  After Ms.Griner’s appeal was denied, one of her attorneys commented to journalists that Ms. Griner “…had some hopes and those hopes vanished today,” adding that she also felt “doomed” ( 

Ms. Griner is no doubt suffering, as anyone would in her situation.  Returning to Konvisser’s article on the psychological effects of being falsely imprisoned, a person can still be gravely affected by complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) even well after the particular episode involved is over with symptoms like flashbacks, numbness, hyper-vigilance, nightmares, avoidance, and lack of interest in daily life.  Being imprisoned can be a and usually is life-changing experience. For now, we can hope and meditate, sending energy that Ms. Griner is brought home soon.

Your weekly Jazz Therapy Meditation

Today, with open hearts, we will send energy to Brittney Griner and the players involved in her case, with the hope that she is released promptly.  Please join me in this meditation.

Jazz Therapy weekly Playlist-Honoring Brittney Griner

Emotional Dwelling (To Mirror Your Mood)

“I’ll Be Seeing You,” Billie Holiday, Billie Holiday.

Emotional Elevation (To Feel Better)

“We’ll Be Together Again,” McCoy Tyner, Nights of Ballads and Blues

Emotional Reverie (To Dream and Remember)

“Darn that Dream,” Clifford Brown, Max Roach Quintet, The Complete EmArcy Recordings

Emotional Tone Setting (To Intentionally Create an Emotional Vibe)

“Blue Moon,” Clifford Brown Jr and Max Roach, Clifford Brown with Strings

Emotional Transcendence (To Be Taken Beyond the Normal to the Divine)

“Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” Jane Monheit, Come Dream With Me

Song Spotlight of The Week (Each week, we highlight one song from the playlist to talk about a little bit more in-depth.

“Blue Moon,” Clifford Brown Jr and Max Roach, Clifford Brown with Strings, 1955.

This album is full of lush, warm tones from this young trumpeter (I still can’t believe he was only 25 when he recorded this tune.  Critics are divided over how good this album is.  To me, the ballads speak for themselves.  I chose this tune for the category of Emotional Tone-Setting because this tune is a bit melancholy, though still hopeful at the same time.  That is how I feel about Brittney Griner’s case: it is sad, and yet, she will come home.  That is a fact.  We will carry that hope until it occurs.  And to think, that all over the world, we all bask in the same glow of the moon. 

Jazz Birthdays (Each week, we will highlight birthdays of jazz performers around the world.  We are grateful they exist!)

Clifford Brown, October 30 (1930-1956)

This America trumpeter was genius at his craft; he is “noted for lyricism, clarity of sound, and grace of technique” (  His sound is truly unique and beautiful (he is featured in two songs on this week’s playlist). Fun Fact: His son, Clifford Brown Jr., hosts a weekly program on the Bay Area’s Jazz Station, KCSM 91.1, on Sunday mornings:

Jane Monheit (B: November 3, 1977-Present)

This uber-talented vocalist will soothe your soul with her mellifluous voice.

Call for Poetry

Are you a poet? We are accepting submissions for our weekly “Poetry Play” portion of the “Jazz Therapy” newsletter! Your poem could be about jazz, civil rights, or any current event/theme that might go along with each newsletter.  You will get free publicity and appreciative eyes from the readers of “Jazz Therapy!”