WACO, Texas — In Russian custody for nearly 1,000 days isn’t a place Marine veteran Trevor Reed ever thought he’d land.
“If you have evidence proving your innocence, which I did, they’ll just go in their investigation," Reed said about his experience with Russian authorities. "They’ll just [try to] discredit your evidence which shows that you’re innocent.”
Arrested in Moscow in 2019 on trumped up charges of assaulting local police, Russian higher ups quickly deduced they had someone in custody that could prove valuable.
The next two and half plus years were a day-to-day nightmare for the Texan.
"I probably didn’t have very long to live there[…] wasn’t receiving medical treatment[…] losing so much weight," Reed said. "I thought ‘Okay, I’m not going to make it.'”
His parent's efforts eventually let to a meeting with President Biden, which helped set the stage for a dramatic prisoner swap with Russia. Reed is now spending his newfound freedom pushing for the U.S. government to get others wrongfully detained, victims of shady legal systems, home to American soil.
“My message to them, do whatever you have to to survive […] to push our government to get them out and do what they need to do,” he says.
One of the most high profile, Paul Whelan, is also a one-time Marine who is approaching year four in Russian custody.
WNBA star and former Baylor standout Brittney Griner, arrested earlier this year after accidentally bringing vape cartridges with cannabis oil into the country, is another detainee.
Reed said he doesn't think the Biden administration is doing enough to free hostages, but he's grateful to them nonetheless.
"In my opinion, the Biden administration has the ability to get them out," Reed said. "They’ve chosen so far not to do that.”
The U.S. government says getting Americans unjustly imprisoned back home is a high priority. This week, the administration announced a new, tougher executive order.
The State Department said the order would issue financial and entry restrictions against foreign officials for "wrongfully detaining U.S. nationals.”
To those who say prison swaps with hostile foreign actors don't work, Reed disagrees.
“That argument is invalid," Reed said about arguments against exchanging prisoners with governments like Russia. "The Russians took Paul Whelan, immediately asked for a prisoner exchange. The U.S. said, ‘Oh no, they could extort the United States.' Your argument would be they didn’t take more Americans hostage, but they did. After that, they took me.”
Then, they nabbed Griner.
Reed points out these are just examples from one place, and there are other bad actor countries that think largely the same.
“If they can get something out of it they will, but they don’t need an incentive to screw with the U.S,” Reed said.
As he tries to rebuild a life in Texas, those still struggling to stay alive are on Reed’s mind and that won’t change until they’re home.