TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (WIAT) — WNBA star Brittney Griner is back in America after 10 months in Russian custody for possession of cannabis oil. She was sentenced to nine years in a prison camp and released in a prison swap this week.
Tuscaloosa veteran Alex Drueke is all too familiar with being stuck in Russian captivity. He and Hartselle veteran Andy Huynh spent over 100 days as prisoners of war until they returned in September.
On Friday, Drueke spoke exclusively to CBS 42 sharing his thoughts on the swap and what’s in store for Griner. Drueke said while he knows what it is like to come back home from some of the worst conditions, he said their situations are different.
“It’s really great to be home and be surrounded by people who want to take care of me,” Drueke said.
But getting home has been one of the toughest battles for both of them.
“I think it’s incredible,” Drueke said. “I’m very, very happy that she’s home.”
CBS News reported Friday more on the conditions Griner was in – a bed too small and cold temperatures that caused her to cut her hair because it would freeze.
“No one needs to be held in the conditions that the Russians are holding people,” Drueke said. “She was in a different location than us.”
Griner’s return was the result of a prison swap for convicted Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout in a one-for-one deal.
“Like a lot of other people, I’m kind of scratching my head on how this deal evens out,” Drueke said. “I don’t necessarily think it was a fair trade.”
Drueke said he is disappointed retired Marine Paul Whelan was not included in the exchange. Whelan is convicted on espionage charges and has been in Russian custody for about four years. CBS News reports that Vladimir Putin said anything is possible when it comes to additional prisoner swaps.
“The thing about these exchanges is we don’t know when or how they happen,” Drueke said. “Even when we went up to D.C. we were talking to some of the people there we said how did Saudi Arabia get involved they said we can’t really tell you.”
But just like people didn’t give up on him – Drueke wants Whelan’s family to keep hope that he too can one day come home.
“We need to keep doing everything we can to finish this war and get everybody back to their loved ones,” Drueke said.
Drueke’s mother Bunny said it is important for Griner to have support from her family and friends and the ability to have time to herself to heal from any trauma she may have gone through.