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Former detainees describe challenges WNBA star Brittney Griner could face now that she's home

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What's next for Brittney Griner after returning to the U.S.? (2:36)

T.J. Quinn details Brittney Griner's time in a Russian labor camp and what's next for Griner after being freed in a prisoner swap. (2:36)

There was no dramatic scene on the tarmac when Brittney Griner landed in San Antonio early Friday morning. She and her family have chosen to start her reentry without fanfare -- but not without a plan.

While Griner was in Russian captivity for 294 days, her loved ones were cultivating the advice of experts and those few who have experienced the fraught joy of being released from captivity.

After the euphoria of being reunited with loved ones, Griner may find herself emotionally and psychologically overwhelmed.

"This is such a long, hard road that nothing in life can ever prepare you for," says Jessica Buchanan, who was kidnapped by Somali pirates in 2011 and held for three months.

Griner, who recently recovered from the flu, will be occupied for a day or two at Brooke Army Medical Center by a battery of tests, along with constant attention to her mental health. Her representatives have been vague about her plans, requesting privacy for Griner and her family, but sources said when she leaves the hospital she will go to a private, secure location until she's ready to return home or venture back into the public eye. Sources said U.S. government officials will ask to debrief Griner at some point, but that it's up to her whether she wants to.

Buchanan and others -- none of whom are involved or consulting with Griner or her family -- are quick to caution that no two former detainees react the same way, but there are commonalities all detainees share.

"Whether you're being illegally detained by a government actor or being held hostage by a group of gangsters, the similarities are that you're afraid, you have no autonomy," she says. "You're in a situation that no one has prepared you for, that nothing will prepare you for."

While any detainee dreams of returning home, the initial joy can fade with the awareness of how much someone has missed, says Sam Goodwin, who spent 63 days as a Syrian hostage in 2019.

He says his reunion with his parents felt like a scene from a movie. "A minute or two later, I was thinking about everything that had happened to me in the past nine weeks and I said to my parents, 'I have a story for you.' My mom said, 'We have a story for you, too,'" he says. "I didn't know anything that had happened on the outside. In many of these cases the families have as much going on as the hostage and you have no idea."

Griner won't face that particular kind of shock; her lawyers kept her updated about events and were able to deliver numerous letters and cards from family and friends. But Griner, 32, still lost 10 months of her life and countless moments with her loved ones.

Sometimes experts advise that former detainees not only avoid the public, but that they limit their time with family when they're first released.

"It can be too much," says Amy Manson, a founding board member and chair of the family support committee for Hostage US, a nonprofit that supports the families of hostages and detainees. "It's not that they don't want to see people."

The process of finding the right pace for reentry -- what Manson calls "surviving survival" -- requires constant recalibration.

"It's not like you get to pop back to where you were; the world's changed, you've changed," she says. "And maybe your priorities and interests have changed."

It's not a given that Griner will want to return to basketball, or that she will resume playing immediately if she does. While she was in the Moscow jail where she spent most of her captivity, her lawyers offered to bring her a basketball to use on the jail's small court. Griner, a center for the Phoenix Mercury, declined and said she wasn't ready to think about it, Maria Blagovolina, one of her lawyers, said.

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Timeline of Brittney Griner's detention in Russia

T.J. Quinn details the timeline of events from Brittney Griner's drug arrest in Russia until her release from prison on Thursday.

Griner's ability to adjust might depend on whether she was able to feel a sense of agency while she was locked up. Experts describe a fundamental change in how the brain works when a person loses control over one's life; executive function can shut down and the person enters a fight-or-flight mode. Some do better the longer they've been in detention because they found a way to regain that sense of control, while some people who are released relatively quickly struggle because they never recovered it.

"One thing that gives me a little hope for Brittney is she's an athlete; she has something that's a little bit different, that a lot of other political prisoners and hostages don't have," says Goodwin, who played hockey at Division I Niagara University. "One thing that went through my mind was 'control what you can control' -- coaches say it all the time. I found myself where I could control very little -- very little -- but because of that experience I could focus on those little things. I could do basic exercises -- push-ups, sit-ups, core exercises, how I prayed, how I ate the minimal food I was given. I would have been in a completely different place without those skills."

For Griner, that mentality might have been evident in her decision to cut her famously long hair rather than contend with the cold after washing it during a Russian winter. She was prepared to be in Russia for the long haul.

At home, Manson says, Griner will have to prepare for a backlash over her detainment.

"It's the shame/blame game. People will be haters and they'll say it's your fault because you went there," she says. "You're going to have people say horrible things to you and you have to be ready for it."

And it can happen with loved ones, not just internet trolls, she says: "Sometimes it's going to be somebody who at first is, 'I'm so glad you're home,' and then they end up blaming you."

Neither Goodwin nor Buchanan says they would ever want to relive a day of their captivity, but both say they came through it with strengths they're grateful for.

"On one hand I wouldn't want to relive captivity, but I wouldn't want to give up what came of it," Goodwin says. "I grew in faith and many great things have come from it."

Buchanan says she was "very much in the throes of grief" in Somalia when it struck her that she had long wanted a chance to do a "life review."

"I woke up one morning and, looking around, I was like, well, no time like the present," she says. "I said, 'OK, Jess, this is the worst situation you'll ever be in your life. What are you going to do [to] get through this? How are you going to survive? Because your family needs you.

"Then I woke up one morning and I had this revelation that, you know what, I'm a f---ing badass. I'm doing this. That was such a mind shift for me. And then I was able to get it together."

Buchanan says she expects the same from Griner.

"Brittney will find this. She will come out of this. She's already proven so much about herself and her life and what she's capable of," she says. "She's going to add this to her repertoire of badass moments."