Brittney Griner Had to Get Permission to Cut Her ‘Molding’ Hair in Prison

Brittney Griner Explains Why She Cut Her Hair
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Brittney Griner’s decision to cut her hair while in a Russian prison was a life or death matter.

“At IK-2, they froze together. My iced locs started molding beneath that wrap. They took three days to dry after I showered. During exercise on frigid mornings, I could literally feel a head cold coming on,” Griner, 33, writes in her new book, Coming Home, per an excerpt obtained by TIME. Griner has long been candid about the detention center’s unsafe and unsanitary conditions. (In a 20/20 interview with ABC’s Robin Roberts, she recalled sleeping on a bloody mattress.) 

Ahead of her sentence, which came after she was detained in a Russia airport for possessing 0.7 grams of hash oil, which is legal in her home state of Arizona but illegal in Russia, Griner wore her hair in dreadlocks, which fell past her shoulders. (Following her arrest, she was sentenced to nine years at a labor camp.) 

Griner began growing out her locs while attending Baylor University in Texas — and like most Black women, her hair became a source of pride and offered convenience. 

“I loved how easy they made my life,” Griner writes. “I didn’t have to think much about my hair. I could just hoop. … Me and my dreads had history: coming out to Pops, the WNBA draft, my rise at Baylor my love story with [my wife] Relle. Together, we’d been through the good, the bad and the devastating.” 

Unfortunately, due to her Russian confinement, her tresses “had to go.” Griner writes, however, that despite the harrowing circumstances at the prison, she wasn’t able to freely cut her hair. She needed permission. 

“Ann [an inmate] helped me write an application to give to [deputy warden] Mother of Dragon, telling her I’d keep getting sick if I kept them. She agreed. There was a salon at the colony. The stylist was [building leather] Val’s girlfriend, an older lady named Jenya. She had a nice little setup: barber chair, hair tools, pictures of hairstyles on the walls. And she did it all, from perms and buzz cuts to color and curls,” Griner writes. 

Griner’s locs proved to be a challenge for Jenya. “When I sat down in her chair, she looked at my dreads like, ‘What do I do with this?” the excerpt reads. 

Griner continues, “I showed her a picture of my nephew E.J., who had the short fade I wanted. I gestured for her to snip off the locs. A dread at a time, the old me fell to the floor. She then put a guard on her clippers and—bzzzz—raked the vibrating steel over my scalp. I couldn’t see while she cut. I just had to trust her. Later, when she turned me around to the mirror, I thought, ‘Not bad.’”

Fans of Griner were shocked to see her transformation when she was released on December 8, 2022 in a prisoner exchange with the United States for arms dealer Viktor Bout. She returned to the basketball court in time for the 2023 WNBA season. She’s a center for the Phoenix Mercury. 

Griner’s memoir, Coming Home, will debut on May 7. 

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