Sylvia Fowles of the Minnesota Lynx defends against Brittney Griner of the Phoenix Mercury at Target Center in Minneapolis, MN on July 14 2019. Lynx won the game 75-62. Photo credit: Lorie Shaull on Wikimedia

Welcome home Brittney Griner. Time for radical self-care in your re-entry

Griner’s release marks the beginning of a long process of healing from incarceration. Her predicament illuminates how formerly incarcerated people experience reintegration and seek to restore their humanity..

The trauma experienced during incarceration, federal or otherwise, will remain upon and after release, as will the stigma from the general public of being formerly incarcerated. While WNBA star Brittney Griner is an exceptional case, she will have to undergo what millions of Black men and women in the U.S. experience yearly—reintegrating back into society.

In a statement, the Griner family asked for privacy as they readjust and heal from a distressing situation. Like all who endure incarceration then release, there’s a critical part of the process that goes ignored. There needs to be some type of intervention before they even return home. 

Detention centers are known to be inhospitable structures that are often cold, damp and overflowing with despair. Along with the inhumane treatment, the social and psychological experiences tax all those inside. That is why it is important to offer those who come out, critical support to heal from the trauma of incarceration, and additional support to cope with the trauma of getting treated like a criminal once they come home.

The most significant adjustment is dealing with a shift in identity. Not only will Griner be framed differently from the lens of society, but also their personal ideation morphs. Consequently, the issues that arise with the stigma of incarceration become more complicated when navigating the daily hurdles of reacclimating back into society. In particular, women and the community must renegotiate the new ideations around those reentering back into their pockets of society, as they attempt to do meaningful work they carried out before they were imprisoned.

President Joe Biden meets Cherelle Griner about the release of Brittney Griner, Thursday, December 8, 2022, in the Oval Office. Photo credit: Official White House Photo/ Adam Schultz

International superstar to political prisoner

Griner’s case became an international conversation earlier this year. Russian authorities detained the two-time Olympic gold medalist and WNBA all-star for allegedly possessing two vape cannabis cartridges when she flew into Moscow’s Sheremetyevo International Airport. In the eastern European nation, drugs are illegal and penalties are harsh. Subsequently, Griner was found guilty in a trial that was presented as a lopsided process at best. Nonetheless, she was given a 9-year sentence in a penal colony.

What made her incarceration more dire, it occurred just days before Russia invaded Ukraine. The war between the two countries still rages on, but Grinner was clearly caught in political crosshairs abroad and at home. Ark Republic’s political commentator, Sherice J. Nelson surmised that Russia used Griner’s detention as political currency at a time much of the world disagreed with President Vladamir Putin’s decision to attack Ukraine.

More complex, Griner is an open member of the LGBTQ+ community. In Russia, same sex relationships were banned until 2013. Today, there are rigid regulations against promoting an aspect of the LGBTQ+ lifestyle. Griner’s proud membership became part of the concern for her detention, and connected to the treatment she received.

For months there were talks of a political tradeoff. Eventually, the Biden Administration agreed to a prisoner swap between Griner and Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout. However, the announcement of Griner’s release came with mixed reception. While many expressed approval, there were those who dissented in celebratory remarks. Former U.S. president, Donald Trump called Griner an “America hating basketball player” because of her outspokenness during the Black Lives Matter movement under his chaotic tenure. Before that, Latino rapper, Tekashi 69 posted on his social media a video of him message saying “Fuck Brittney Griner” while visiting Russia for a performance.

To add, the NBA and WNBA were ordered to stay silent about the issue until Griner’s spouse, Cherelle, and a handful of public figures began placing pressure on the Biden Administration to intervene. Largely, the professional athletes acquiesced until sports organizations became more vocal. 

The invisibility of Griner’s case is often an issue with those who are formerly incarcerated, and especially women. That is why it was so timely when Florida activist and state elected official, Dwight Bullard, told Ark Republic that the U.S. has a race and gender problem. Now that Griner is going through re-entry, it is critical that the process completely embraces the goal of centering and restoring her humanity. 

Overall, the hope is that this will shift how we welcome home those who are coming out of prisons and jails; especially women who are incarcerated. While they still show significantly lower numbers than their male counterparts, studies show a 50 percent faster increase than men from 1984 to 2015. From 1978 to 2015 the female population in jails went up by 834 percent. 

Most of those who go to jail are mothers, and often are the sole or a significant provider for their families. Similar to the case of Griner, their detentions occurred during times they were attempting to gain more financial resources. To add, the apparent pay gap between the NBA and WNBA causes many female professional basketball athletes to find work in Europe. For decades, this has been an issue in sports, but often overlooked.

As society quibbles over the political ramifications of the prisoner swap, Griner’s priority and that of her family, should be to enact radical self care and cultivate homeostasis.

Kaia Niambi Shivers contributed to this article.

Dr. Rolanda Spencer is a professor who focuses on social justice and prisoner re-entry.

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