Former cellmate provides window into Reality Winner’s life behind bars

Mikaela Uscanga posted this photo on Twitter in April, showing her with Reality Winner's mother, Billie Winner-Davis. During Winner-Davis’s last trip to Georgia, she visited Uscanga, her fiance, her mother and her brother. SPECIAL



Mikaela Uscanga posted this photo on Twitter in April, showing her with Reality Winner's mother, Billie Winner-Davis. During Winner-Davis’s last trip to Georgia, she visited Uscanga, her fiance, her mother and her brother. SPECIAL

Reality Winner, the Augusta woman accused of leaking a top-secret government report about Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election, said she has been jailed for “nothing,” that President Donald Trump doesn’t like her and that she is being targeted, a former cellmate told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Meanwhile, the former Air Force linguist is keeping in contact with her mother by phone, writing letters to her supporters and maintaining a rigorous daily workout regimen, said Mikaela Uscanga, who was held with Winner in the Lincoln County jail for much of March.

Winner, 26, has also suffered hardships. Another inmate attacked her earlier this year. Not wanting to be charged with another crime, Winner curled up in the fetal position and took a beating, Uscanga said. She also injured her knee in a nasty spill while being transported for a court hearing, landing face-first while shackled and handcuffed.

The two new friends kept their spirits up, Uscanga said, by joking with each other and laughing in the 12-bed, female-only dorm they shared.

“She is a veteran. She is already a patriot,” said Uscanga, 18, who is out of jail on bond awaiting trial on felony drug possession charges. “I feel like she was trying to help United States citizens — because who wouldn’t want to know if the voting systems were being hacked, when you are the one voting for the president?”

Winner, the first person to be prosecuted by the Trump administration on allegations of leaking, has pleaded not guilty to a charge of giving the National Security Agency report to The Intercept, an online news publication. She is being prosecuted under the Espionage Act and faces 10 years in prison and $250,000 in fines.

In February, accused leaker Reality Winner injured her knee in a fall while being transported to a court hearing. She is seen here leaving the federal courthouse in Augusta following a June bond hearing. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

icon to expand image

Winner has been held behind bars for about 10 months. Her trial is scheduled to begin Oct. 15.

Winner’s and Uscanga’s families grew close during the women’s time in jail together. Winner’s mother, Billie Winner-Davis, put $200 in Uscanga’s inmate account for food, clothing and toiletries. She also sent Uscanga some GED study books. During her last trip to Georgia in April, Winner-Davis spent time with Uscanga, her fiance, her mother and her brother.

“Mikaela wants to let the world know that Reality is a good person, and that even though she’s there in jail, Reality continues to be a very giving, nurturing person,” Winner-Davis said. “The reason I put the money on her books is because Reality asked me to do that. Reality was very torn up about the fact that her mother had been to see her and her mother did not have any money to help her out.”

Calling Winner the big sister she never had, Uscanga said Winner helped her adjust after she got locked up.

“I started crying,” Uscanga said, “because I know I had a family that missed me and I know that I had messed up really bad. She comforted me and let me know that everything is going to be OK and that people make mistakes and sometimes there are things we can’t do anything about.”

Within a few weeks of her release from the Lincoln County jail, Mikaela Uscanga, 18, posted a video on Twitter voicing her support for Reality Winner, vouching for her character.

icon to expand image

The two have been speaking daily by phone since Uscanga got out of jail on March 30. Uscanga shared with WSB-TV a video recording of a phone call the two had last month. In the call, the two can be heard joking about jail food.

“Hello, world,” Winner announces during the call before referring to the jail’s kitchen. “Girl, let me tell you about dinner tonight because I can’t even be mad about it. There was so much struggle going on in that kitchen today. There were leftover peas from Sunday and potato chips.”

A vegan, Winner has refused to give up her diet behind bars, and her health has suffered for it, according to her family. Her mother said she has tried in vain to convince the jail to accommodate her with fresh fruit and vegetables instead of canned food.

“I know that they were being funny and they were laughing,” Winner-Davis said of the phone call, “but I heard that piece of it, and it broke my heart as a parent.”

Meanwhile, Winner's attorneys are continuing to ask the federal judge in the case to throw out the initial statements she made to FBI agents on June 3 at her home in Augusta. Winner said she was never advised she had the right to remain silent and the right to an attorney.

On April 27, her attorneys filed court papers, citing former FBI Director James Comey’s recently released memos, saying they show his agency was under “extraordinary pressure” from Trump to pursue leakers. Those memos, the court papers say, confirm the FBI was required to advise her of her Miranda rights because she was not free to leave her home when the federal agents showed up.

“With the extraordinary pressure coming from the highest parts of the executive branch to aggressively pursue leakers, the FBI was simply never going to allow Ms. Winner to walk out the door,” the court papers say.

Also on April 27, Winner’s legal team suffered a setback when U.S. Magistrate Judge Brian Epps rejected all but one of her attorneys’ 41 requests to subpoena the White House and numerous states and federal agencies, including the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, CIA and the National Security Council, for classified information. The court filings don’t identify what records her attorneys are seeking. Epps called the requests he rejected “scattershot, dragnet attempts to discover evidence not presently known to exist.”

“In these national security cases, judges seem to side with the government,” said Melvin Goodman, who worked in the CIA’s Office of Soviet Affairs before testifying in Congress in 1991 about the confirmation of Robert Gates to lead the agency. He now teaches international relations at Johns Hopkins University.

“That’s one of the guardrails of democracy that’s not working,” Goodman said. “So I’m not surprised by this, because I think they’re really going to make an example of her anyway.”