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He was in a Russian prison for nearly three years. Who is Trevor Reed?

Trevor Reed’s return to the United States, facilitated by President Biden, raises questions about other American citizens still imprisoned in Russia

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A poster photo of U.S. Marine Corps veteran and former Russian prisoner Trevor Reed.

A poster photo of U.S. Marine Corps veteran and former Russian prisoner Trevor Reed stands in Lafayette Park near the White House, March 30, 2022, in Washington.

Patrick Semansky, Associated Press

Trevor Reed, a former U.S. Marine, spent nearly three years in a Russian prison after being convicted on what critics have called trumped-up charges. According to ABC News, Reed was confined to isolation cells the size of a closet for 23 hours a day and shunted into forced labor camps, which he said felt like something “out of medieval times.”

Reed was arrested in Moscow in 2019, when he was a student majoring in international security studies, per ABC News. He was visiting his Russian girlfriend and attended a party with his girlfriend’s friends, where he became inebriated. His girlfriend and friends feared for his safety, so they called the police and asked them to bring Reed to a drunk tank to become sober. Initially, the police said he was free to leave in the morning, but after a shift change occurred, they decided to hold him.

Reed indicated that the police accused him of assaulting the police officers the night before, after they interrogated him about his military service. They soon charged him in what Reed called a “kangaroo court.” According to ABC News, the judge laughed at the officers contradicting themselves during the court session. Reed told ABC News that privately, the officers disclosed that they made false accusations, telling him, “We didn’t want to write this. They told us to write this.”

When he tried to appeal his own conviction, he was sent to a psychiatric unit where the conditions were “pretty terrible,” Reed said. “You know, blood on the walls. There’s a hole in the floor for the toilet. I thought maybe they had sent me there to chemically disable me, to give me sedatives or whatever and make me unable to fight.”

After seeing the blood on the walls “where prisoners had killed themselves, or killed other prisoners, or attempted to do that,” Reed did not sleep for a couple of days because he feared what the people in his cell might do to him.

Reed spent more than a year in a rat-infested pre-trial detention center before he was sentenced to nine years in a prison camp. He was transported to a former Gulag camp, located in Mordovia.

In an interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper, Reed recounted how he lost 45 pounds during his time in prison and coughed up blood for months. He feared he had COVID-19 or tuberculosis. But Reed also told Tapper, “The longer that I was in there, the more dedicated I was to not allowing them to break me.”

Reed never let himself hope that he would get out of prison.

Russia’s war on Ukraine solidified his despair. He told Tapper when he learned about the war, he thought, “OK, now there’s no way that I’m ever getting out of here.” But Reed was transferred from a hospital to an FSB prison where a U.S. State Department official told him that he would likely be released.

Russia and the United States negotiated a prisoner swap. Reed was transported to Turkey and Russian FSB officers told Reed, “We have a man there in America. American jet will fly here. He will land next to us. You will leave the plane. He will leave the plane. You will cross each other on the runway and get in your own plane.”

A Biden administration official previously told CNN that the prisoner swap was the culmination of months of work. It was a bipartisan effort to bring Reed home. Texas Republican Rep. August Pfluger and the Biden administration collaborated to bring Reed back.

The consistent activism of Reed’s family, Reed’s declining health and Russia’s attack on Ukraine led President Joe Biden to authorize swapping Yaroshenko for Reed.

Two other American citizens remained wrongfully detained in Russia: Paul Whelan and Brittney Griner. Reed’s mother, Paula Reed, spoke to CNN and said that he told her, “I am not doing well now, but as soon as I get better, I’m going to work on bringing Paul home.”

Trevor Reed was released on April 27, 2022. Biden issued the following statement about his release: “His safe return is a testament to the priority my Administration places on bringing home Americans held hostage and wrongfully detained abroad. We won’t stop until Paul Whelan and others join Trevor in the loving arms of family and friends.”