LINCOLN COUNTY, Ga. — On April 17, an automated, recorded call from the Lincoln County Jail came through Mikaela Usanga’s landline phone.
She was excited to hear from a newfound friend, who spoke four languages and often irritated the prison guards by going on in Farsi.
“You just going to tell everybody ‘Hey.’ You don’t have any message or nothing?” Uscanga said while laughing uncontrollably.
“I ain’t got no message or nothing,” Reality Winner responds in a silly, high-pitched voice.
“Reality,” Usanga said.
“Yes, ma’am,” Winner answers.
“Did you hear what (unrecognizable) said? Cornflakes and TV are dope,” Uscanga said.
“Heeeell, yeah,” Winner said.
The 18- and 26-year-olds sound more like dorm room friends, rather than former cellmates.
But Usanga is on bond for felony drug-related charges, and Winner is considered an enemy of the state or a patriot.
It depends on who you ask.
“She told me that she was in the Air Force. She’s a veteran and that she’s charged for being a patriot,” Usanga said. “The only thing she told me is basically she’s locked up for nothing.”
In an exclusive interview with Channel 2 Action News and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, a friend and former cellmate of Winner, is speaking out about the alleged NSA leaker's life behind bars, and thoughts of the Trump administration's influence over her case, which centers around the release of classified Russian election interference documents.
“When I say Trump is a sensitive topic, she feels like she’s being directly targeted by Trump, as an example for other leakers,” Usanga told Channel 2 Investigative Reporter Nicole Carr.
Carr met Usanga in her hometown of Lincolnton, Georgia. The population is somewhere in the 1,500-range.
Usanga said her trouble started during a night out with friends in local hotel, where small amounts of marijuana and pills were found in the room.
In early March, she returned to the Lincoln County Jail months after her introduction to a cell following a misdemeanor disorderly conduct charge.
Her bunk was connected to Winner’s in an L-shape. Usanga’s feet were at Winner’s head.
“She’s been kidnapped of her freedom,” Usanga told Carr, noting issues Winner has had with receiving a proper diet and basic toiletries.
By the time they'd met, Winner had already been denied bond several times over, as the federal court deemed her a flight risk.
June will mark one year since Winner’s arrest from her Augusta home, where federal agents met her on return from a grocery store run.
The now-former Augusta government contractor was taken into custody the same day, and charged with espionage.
Her defense has repeatedly asked for leaking admissions to be thrown out of trial evidence, on the basis she wasn’t read Miranda Rights.
The arrest sparked national attention, when details of Winner's handwritten home memos were released during a bond hearing later that week.
It was shortly after Carr had the first television interview with her parents.
Besides declaring her innocence, Usanga says Winner didn’t talk much about her case in jail. She did watch the news every morning.
“She did tell me how they made a joke about her on TV and Donald Trump, and I’m not going to speak on it too much because it’s a sore subject,” Usanga told Carr. “She did tell me that seeing herself on TV gave her hope that maybe, one of these days, she will get out, and hopefully it’s this year. I hope and pray it’s this year.”
BRINGING COMEY INTO THE DEFENSE
Usanga accounts Winner’s daily yoga routine, her artwork and letters that ask “The right things for the wrong reasons? The wrong things for the right reasons?”
Those handwritten letters also ponder justice for Winner, as the daughter asks about “a mother’s revenge.”
Meanwhile, a recent national bombshell is playing into her case.
Last week, Winner’s legal team filed a motion to suppress evidence from that June 2017 FBI questioning on grounds that she was denied basic Miranda Rights and the ability to leave agents because of the Trump administration’s determination to crack down on leakers.
They specifically quote newly released memos from former FBI Director James Comey, where Comey writes of his interaction with the president and declares he is “eager to find leakers and would like to nail one to the door as a message.”
Winner is the first leaker tried under the Trump administration.
Last weekend, Usanga wasn’t allowed to visit Winner.
She said she’d been taken off the visitation list. Winner informed her it was because she and her family were considered national security risks.
“(They) say that we are a security risk. Myself and my mother,” Usanga said. “We’re from here. Lincolnton, Georgia. We’re country people. We don’t know that much about the government to even try to do anything like that.”
As Usanga awaits her own fate, she’s vowed to tell Winner’s story, and see her through trial.
At this point, it’s scheduled for October.
“I would continue to put flyers up in town,” Usanga said, pulling out T-shirts, pins and flyers in support of Winner. “Saying what’s going on with Reality. I’m going to continue to talk to people about Reality.”
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