Phoenix Mercury center Brittney Griner (42) reacts after making a three-pointer during the home opener against the Chicago Sky in the second half at Footprint Center on May 21, 2023. | Rob Schumacher/The Republic / USA TODAY NETWORK

WNBA star Brittney Griner‘s 10 months in Russian prisons before being released in a prisoner swap were filled with isolation, pain, loneliness, hunger and fear that she would never be released. It also made her acutely aware of being gay in a country with harsh anti-LGBTQ laws.

A year and a half after Griner was released from a Russian prison, she is opening up about her experiences in anticipation of next week’s release of her memoir, “Coming Home,” written with Michelle Burford. The New York Times Magazine’s J Wortham spent a weekend with Griner for a profile that dives deep into her ordeal and its aftermath.

Griner, who had been out publicly as gay for a decade before her arrest, knew her orientation could be problematic in prison, she told Wortham, describing a psychiatric evaluation.

She lay awake at night, anxious thoughts looping through her head, as she did when she was a child. She thought about [wife] Cherelle and her family. She agonized over bringing shame to the Griner name, over feeding into caustic stereotypes of Black people as drug abusers. There were real threats to deal with as well: She was subjected to a psychiatric evaluation. In Russia, homosexuality is often called a mental illness, and Griner worried that she could be institutionalized. She was asked about her “sick thoughts” and “drug problem” and pressed to admit that she was guilty. …

Prison in Russia reopened old wounds, memories of her adolescent body as an object of fascination and prurient speculation. Guards heckled her, made lewd jokes, asked about her genitalia. Once, she recounted, while returning from the shower with a towel draped around her neck, a guard stopped her and looked her up and down. The guard used her baton to push the towel out of the way and stared at Griner’s chest. Griner was furious but unable to do anything about it.

Griner was sentenced to nine years in prison after being caught in possession of cannabis-based cartridges at a Russian airport in February 2022, a week before Russia invaded Ukraine. She quickly became a pawn of the Russians, who used her to eventually swap with the U.S. for a Russian arms dealer doing time in USP Marion.

She told the New York Times that after being transferred to a prison in a remote region of the country, she adopted a feeling of hopelessness to help her survive. As a 6-9 Black American woman, Griner stood out and had no one inmate with whom she could communicate.

“I thought I was going to be there for the long haul,” she told Wortham. “I’m tired of waiting for the day. It’s easier to just accept the situation I’m in. I’m an inmate.”

She details how she became a chain-smoker and used snow shoveling as a way to lift weights to try and stay in shape. When the power in the prison went out, she “carried hunks of cow from the freezer to the fields where they cooked meals, warming up by the fires. She celebrated Thanksgiving alone with a smoked turkey leg and rice with soy sauce that she bought from the commissary.”

Despite being notified in November 2022 that she would be released, Griner never fully accepted it, refusing to eat food on the plane that was taking her out of the country because she feared it might be poisoned. And she suffered one final indignity, Wortham recounts.

In the morning, she writes [in the book], she was taken to an examination room, where a man who said he was a doctor stood with seven armed guards. She was told to remove her clothes, which she did. He gestured for her to remove her boxers too. Fear coursed through her, but she complied, standing without covering herself or cowering. They began photographing her from every angle — a final display of total power and control over her body.

Her return to the U.S. was filled with moments of joy, but also confusion and what amounted to depression, which the article does a great job of detailing. For example, she has nightmares where she is back in Russia and fears traveling abroad, saying, “If I go to the wrong country, they could literally just grab me.” She will play in Paris at the Olympics because of security guarantees from the U.S. Olympic Committee.

The story, which is essential reading, does have an optimistic end, with Griner excited for the upcoming season with the Phoenix Mercury. Griner comes across as a resilient woman and athlete who endured horrific moments and yet still managed to keep her humanity.