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The Olympic Games-Tokyo 2020

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WNBA star Brittney Griner is nearing the four-month mark since being detained in a Russian jail for the alleged possession of vape cartridges with THC oil at a Moscow airport. The 31-year-old Phoenix Mercury center hasn’t been able to have any face-to-face exchange with her wife Cherelle or speak with anyone stateside by phone. But Griner’s agent, Lindsay Kagawa Colas, and Griner’s legal team are doing their part to make sure their client isn’t silenced. Thanks to a system using photos of emails and snail mail, Griner has been able to keep in touch with friends and family back home.

Los Angeles Sparks forward Amanda Zahui B. (whose full surname is Bazoukou) told the Associated Press that she wrote to Griner some months ago but hadn’t heard back from her fellow baller. Yet she sent Griner another letter, with no expectation of a reply. “When she responded to my second letter it blew me away,” Zahui B. said. “I was like she responded!! In my third letter, I was like ‘hey best friend, we are officially best friends now.’”

Zahui B. and Griner didn’t start out as friends during their time playing together in the WNBA nor Europe. But Bazoukou said Griner reached out to her when Bazoukou’s mother was fighting breast cancer. And then Griner touched base again a few years ago to congratulate Bazoukou’s mom on her 60th birthday.

The email/snail mail system is not a simple one, though. First of all, Griner herself does not have direct access to her letter or any electronics. Instead, any correspondence sent her way is first inspected by Russian officials. Then, after they have been reviewed and cleared, the letters and emails are printed out in bulk and given to Griner’s legal team to pass on to the American. From there, Griner will write out her own replies, of which her legal team takes photos. And if there is no pen and paper on hand, Griner dictates her responses instead.

“[Brittney] jokes in her letters. I don’t know how she does it with what she’s going through. She’s an amazing soul,” Zahui B. said. “She brings light in a situation like this. I don’t think a lot of people could manage to do that.”

Griner’s jailing (and the extension of her detainment) has led many to speculate that she is only being kept as “a political pawn,” especially in light of the current Russia-Ukraine war and the prisoner swap of a formerly incarcerated American Marine in April.

But the swap has made Cherelle Griner optimistic about her wife’s eventual safe return. “What makes it doable is that the President of the United States is ready to consider prisoner exchanges, which we haven’t [done] too much in the past,” she told political analyst Angela Rye in an interview for ESPN last month. “She is literally the kindest, sweetest person you will ever meet,” she later added, “and it’s very genuine.”

Cherelle also opened up about how hard the ordeal has been on her and Brittney. But she promised to stick by her wife through this episode and see it through. “When we have been able to communicate, via letters, she’s like, ‘I am so sorry I’m making your life hard right now. Don’t give up on me, though,'” Cherelle told Rye. “And I’m like, ‘I’m not going to give up on you. This isn’t your fault.'”