It's hard to compete with the worldwide press an Olympic athlete can garner at the drop of a hat, particularly when it comes to weed. We're all aware of Brittney Griner's imprisonment in Russia for traveling with vape pens. But there's another American locked up in Russian prison for traveling with a half-ounce of medical cannabis, and he's afraid his story is lost in the shadow of hype around getting the basketball player home.
Marc Hilliard Fogel is an American teacher who teaches International Baccalaureate history courses at schools attended by the children of US diplomats and the global elite in Colombia, Venezuela, Oman, Malaysia, and Russia, where he's taught for the past 10 years, the Washington Post reports.
At 60 years old, Fogel's life took a dark turn. While he's never sought out notoriety, his family thinks talking to the press about his current situation is his only chance at salvation.
Fogel was arrested in 2021 for attempting to enter Russia with a half-ounce of medical cannabis. The flower was prescribed to him in the United States for chronic pain after numerous injuries and surgeries. The judge gave him a 14-year prison sentence that he recently started serving.
The reality of being a normie versus a celebrity athlete in the world is a harsh reminder of privilege and class, and what higher societal ranking can afford you. On Wednesday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced that the United States made an offer to Russia to secure the release of Griner and another jailed American, Paul Whelan, who is currently serving a 16-year Russian sentence on espionage charges. The US denies that Whelan was there as a spy, however.
A Kremlin spokesperson responded, saying they hadn't made a decision on the matter. Although, they indicated they would be open to Blinken's offer. "I will listen to what he has to say," Lavrov said.
In an interview with the Washington Post, Marc Fogel's wife, Jane Fogel, said she hopes Biden's offer will also include her husband. But those hopes are fading.
"There's a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach that Marc will be left behind," Jane Fogel told the Washington Post. "It's terrifying. I would hope that President Biden and especially first lady Jill Biden, who is an educator, realize the importance of including Marc in addition to Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan."
Jane has been watching the Griner case play out from her home in suburban Pittsburgh, wondering if her husband's case has been forgotten. Griner's wife, Cherelle, recently received a call from the president. The Fogels, on the other hand, have been stalled at the US State Department's mid-functionary level. Speculation about a possible prisoner swap before Blinken's announcement on Wednesday had earlier trickled into his Russian prison cell, compounding his anxiety, the Washington Post reports.
"That hurt," Marc Fogel wrote in a letter home referencing the prisoner-exchange reports. "Teachers are at least as important as bballers."
Biden had a call with Griner's wife last week. A transcription summary of the call was released to the public showing that Biden told Cherelle that he and US government were working hard to get Griner home, along with another American and Whelan. Biden added that his administration is pushing for the release of "other" US nationals imprisoned in Russia and other countries. Marc Fogel's name did not appear, however.
"It seems like the government is working really hard for Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan," Jane Fogel said in an interview last week at her home, surrounded by mementos of the family's world-wandering. "We want them to work for us, too."
It's hard to escape the dread that her husband's case will never become a priority. That she may never see him again. At times, she said, tearfully, she feels like a "widow."
Hopefully, Griner's release will lead to a bigger campaign to get American prisoners home who are locked up in Russia and in other countries. While the heartbeat of the drug war pumps on around the world, most people in the US live in states where the plant is legal. Take a moment to remember how lucky you are the next time you decide to toke up.