Transcript for US Marine veteran Trevor Reed speaks on how he survived 985 days in a Russian prison
- I remember thinking, like, is this real? It feels like you're in a dream. Maybe I'm still going to wake up right now in solitary confinement. It takes several days for that feeling to leave you, so.
PATRICK REEVELL: Former US Marine Trevor Reed describing the moment he finally flew out of Russia after spending more than 2 and 1/2 years there behind bars as a hostage. Now, he's back in the US after being freed this month in a prisoner exchange. For the first time, he's giving interviews describing his ordeal.
This is the first time that we've sat across from each other and been talking, where we're not looking through the bars of a cage.
- How are you feeling? How are you doing?
- Good. Obviously, I like this the situation a lot better than when we met the last time.
PATRICK REEVELL: For nearly three years, the 30-year-old has been in Russian prisons, sometimes for weeks in solitary confinement.
TREVOR REED: They use this solitary confinement cell as, like, a weapon to try to get you to comply. It's cold. There's a hot water pipe, basically, that you have to use to stay warm. So you lay on the floor in that cell, lay against the pipe.
PATRICK REEVELL: He says it was punishment for refusing to participate in the Russian government's forced labor camp.
TREVOR REED: Ethically, I thought that that would be wrong to work for a government who was kidnapping Americans and using them as political hostages.
PATRICK REEVELL: Reed is one of at least three Americans caught up in what the US says is a Kremlin campaign of hostage-taking-- Reed saying the US government needs to do more to get Americans home.
Why are you doing this interview now?
- I thought that I needed to do this interview as soon as I could in order to make the American people aware that this is not an isolated situation. We do have political prisoners all over the world in multiple countries, who are suffering and who need our help.
PATRICK REEVELL: Reed and his family pleading in particular for the Biden administration to free Americans Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan, also held by Russia.
JOEY REED: We consider ourselves patriots, but it's embarrassing that all administrations-- they're reluctant to bring our people home. It's like they're trading baseball cards. Well, that one's not worth that one. Don't get me wrong.
We're super thankful that President Biden made the decision to trade for Trevor. And what we want is we want that to continue. Don't wait until they've been there 20 years. Don't wait until they're near death. Do it as soon as you can.
PATRICK REEVELL: Reed's ordeal began in the summer of 2019, when the then-28-year-old was in Moscow visiting his then-girlfriend. After a late night of heavy drinking together with friends, she said Reed became unmanageable, and she forced them to pull over on their way home.
Reed's friends called the police, who agreed to take the Texas native to the station to sober up. But the next day, things changed after agents from Russia's FSB intelligence service arrived.
- I pretty much knew as soon as I saw FSB agents where this case was headed.
PATRICK REEVELL: Police abruptly charged Reed with assaulting the officers who had brought him, claiming he'd seized the wheel, causing the car to swerve dangerously. He was arrested on the spot and put on trial. But in hearings, the police's case was filled with holes-- the police making contradictory testimony, Reed saying the trial was a sham orchestrated by the FSB.
- I'd actually spoken with those police officers. I said, why did you write this false accusation against me? And he looked around at the door to make sure that there was no one there, and he looked at the other police officer, and he said, we didn't want to write this. They told us to write this.
- So you understood that meant either the Kremlin or the FSB.
- Yeah. Someone-- someone up there at a higher level had ordered them to do that.
PATRICK REEVELL: Reed's lawyers said traffic camera footage showed the car never swerved, and that Russian investigators never handed over other security camera footage that could have bolstered his case. After a year-and-a-half-long trial, Reed was sentenced to nine years in a Russian prison camp-- the maximum sentence possible for the offense.
TREVOR REED: The defense was absolutely overwhelming. And unfortunately, I underestimated how corrupt and how dedicated the Russian government is to taking Americans as hostages.
PATRICK REEVELL: Reed appealed his sentence, maintaining his innocence and calling the charges against him "fabricated." Those appeals were denied. Reed's family launched an extraordinary fight to release him-- his father, Joey, even moving to Moscow to be closer to his son, spending over a year there alone.
Reed's parents repeatedly picketing the White House, lobbying the US to act. But as relations with Russia deteriorated further, hopes faded. Reed went on a hunger strike last fall, and his family feared he had contracted tuberculosis this spring.
TREVOR REED: In prison, I had been coughing up blood for several months. And the Russian, you know, prison, penitentiary system, was refusing me tests on tuberculosis. When I came back to the US, I weighed 131 pounds, and when I went to Russia, before prison, I had weighed 175.
PATRICK REEVELL: With the war in Ukraine raging, Reed's sudden release came as a stunning surprise. On April 27, he was traded for Konstantin Yaroshenko, a Russian pilot who had served more than 10 years of his 20-year sentence in Connecticut for drug smuggling. But the joy Reed felt over being freed was quickly dampened with guilt over who was left behind in Russia.
What did you think when you heard that Paul wasn't coming home?
- Sorry. I thought that that was wrong, that they got me out and not Paul. And-- sorry. I knew that as soon as I was able to, that I would fight for him to get out, and that I would do everything I could to get him out of there.
PATRICK REEVELL: 52-year-old former Marine, Paul Whelan, and 31-year-old WNBA star, Brittney Griner, are still caught in the diplomatic tug of war between Russia and the US, complicated by Putin's war in Ukraine. In December 2018, Whelan was visiting Moscow for a friend's wedding when he was accused of being a spy by Russian authorities.
- They're dragging me along, even though I've got a medical condition that prohibits this.
PATRICK REEVELL: After a year and a half behind bars, Whelan was convicted in June 2020 of espionage and sentenced to 16 years in a Russian jail. US authorities and Whelan himself have said this is a hostage situation.
In a rare interview, Whelan talked with ABC News shortly after he was sent to a prison camp. He denies all allegations made against him, saying it was a show trial, something even the judge in his case knew.
PAUL WHELAN (ON PHONE): Right after he read the verdict, I went back to his chambers. And he speaks English, and we had a discussion. He knows this. He knows the whole case is crap.
He told me and my attorneys that it was a provocation. But telephone justice-- he cannot say anything against what the FSB says.
- The message we received was that the US government itself isn't taking acts because we haven't made enough noise. It's pretty outrageous.
PATRICK REEVELL: Griner, the 6'9" center for the Phoenix Mercury has spent offseasons playing pro ball in Russia. In February, she was detained at a Russian airport on allegations of drug smuggling, accused of having vape cartridges containing hashish oil in her luggage. Marijuana is illegal in Russia. After weeks of little information about her well-being, US officials in March were finally granted access to Griner.
NED PRICE: And the consular officer who visited with Brittany Griner was able to verify that she is doing as well as can be expected under these very difficult circumstances.
PATRICK REEVELL: The two-time Olympic gold medalist remains in pretrial detention, with a court extending her detention until June 18. Russian media has reported that the US is in talks to possibly exchange Whelan or Griner, or perhaps both, for Viktor Bout, the notorious Russian arms dealer, nicknamed the Merchant of Death, currently about halfway through his 25-year prison sentence.
How important do you think Viktor Bout was to Russia?
- He clearly was very important. It's my understanding that President Putin himself was involved in trying to get him home.
PATRICK REEVELL: Whelan himself says, from the beginning, Russia made it clear it had taken him for a trade.
PAUL WHELAN (ON PHONE): From the moment I was arrested, I was told that Russia wants Viktor Bout. They want Konstantin Yaroshenko.
PATRICK REEVELL: But retired DEA agent Robert Zachariasiewicz, who helped arrest both Bout and Yaroshenko, fears such deals are not the answer.
ROBERT ZACHARIASIEWICZ: I'll first just say that I have tremendous sympathy for those families. That said, I don't think that's the right answer for how to do that. I think it sends a really bad message to make that type of a trade, because I think it encourages that type of activity from foreign adversaries.
PATRICK REEVELL: Former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson helped with Reed's release, even flying to Moscow the night Russia invaded Ukraine to urge Russia make a deal. He says blanket rejection of exchanges is wrong.
- Do it on a case-by-case basis. But send that signal that we're not going to tolerate these detentions, wrongful detentions, anymore.
- Viktor Bout has already been in prison for 15 years. He is no longer a threat. The fact of the matter is that Paul has another 13 years left in prison, and Brittney-- who knows how long she's going to be sentenced for. She may have 10 years in prison.
PATRICK REEVELL: Reed's health continues to improve, helped in part by an army reintegration program-- his family just looking forward to doing the small things, but together again.
PAULA REED: He's missed almost three years of his life. He's not going to get that time back. We're now going to get that time back. And I just want to cherish every moment that we have with him while he's here.
This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.