Where is Reality Winner Now? Is She Still in Jail?

Image Credit: 60 Minutes/Youtube

HBO’s ‘Reality’ follows the story of the titular character who comes home one day to find FBI officers outside her home. They present her with a search warrant for her house, not hinting at what it’s about until the interrogation starts. Directed by Tina Satter, the movie covers the events of a few hours in which the FBI agents get Reality to confess to the truth.

The entire dialogue in the film is taken verbatim from the transcript of the actual interrogation, which gives a deeply authentic touch to the story while keeping the mystery about Reality’s crime and its consequences alive till the end.

Who is Reality Winner?

Hailing from Texas, Reality Winner is the daughter of Ronald Winner and Billie Winner-Davis. She was one of the top students in her high school class and received a full-ride scholarship to Texas A&M for engineering. However, she decided to join the Air Force at the age of 19. Explaining the reasoning behind it, she said: “I had always wondered about having a bigger impact in the world. I was ready to be part of the world, so I just called [military] recruiters and basically said, ‘Hi, my name is Reality Winner, and I’m enlisting to be a linguist in the Middle East or North African languages.’ I just cold-called them and said, ‘I’m going to be a linguist.’”

Winner hoped her job would take her to another country where she would interact with people. However, her job was more about “dark rooms with lots of computers and no person-to-person contact.” To prepare for her job, she was at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey for two years and became fluent in Farsi, Pashto, and Dari. After another year in intelligence training, she was assigned to work at Fort Meade, Maryland as a linguist in a combat unit.

She received a Commendation Medal for “enemy intelligence exploitation” and geolocating combatants. She was honorably discharged from the U.S. Air Force in 2016. Winner still had clearances following her time in the Air Force, so she used them to apply for defense contracting jobs and took a desk job as an NSA contractor at Fort Gordon in Georgia.

What Happened to Reality Winner?

In 2017, 25-year-old Winner had been working for Pluribus International at Fort Gordon, where she had access to classified information. She printed a document detailing Russian military interference in the 2016 U.S. Presidential Elections. It talked about how the Russian military “executed cyber espionage” against “122 local government organizations” “targeting officials involved in the management of voter registration systems.”

She smuggled the document out of the facility and mailed it to the online news outlet, The Intercept. Explaining the reason behind her decision, Winner told 60 Minutes: “I knew it was secret, but I also knew that I had pledged service to the American people, and at that point, it felt like they were being led astray.” When The Intercept received the document, they tried to verify it with NSA and made the mistake of using the same document that Winner had printed, folded, and smuggled. The crease in the paper became one of the identifying markers. There were six suspects, and every piece of evidence led the authorities to Winner, who reportedly contacted The Intercept from her work computer.

On June 3, 2017, the FBI showed up at Reality’s house, where she was interrogated for being a suspect in mishandling classified information. She confessed and later pleaded guilty in court. In August 2018, she received a sentence of five years and three months, which is the longest prison sentence imposed for the unauthorized release of government information to the media. She was sent to a federal prison in Fort Worth, Texas, to serve time.

Reality Winner is Living in Her Hometown Under Probation Period

Reality Winner was released from prison in June 2021 and sent to a transitional facility. Currently, she lives in her hometown of Kingsville in South Texas with her partner Eddie and their pets. She is on probation until November 2024, which means she has to abide by the restrictions placed on her, which include regular drug tests, a curfew, any interviews with the media, and getting permission beforehand to travel outside of South Texas.

Though enraged by the probation restrictions, she has focused on rebuilding her life. She works as a yoga instructor and a CrossFit trainer. Living in her hometown has allowed her a reprieve. “No one in my hometown recognizes me,” she said, mentioning a couple of exceptions who have expressed their appreciation for her. While it was good to be home, Winner confessed that transitioning back to normal life was a little harder than expected. “It was the first time in four years that I have been in a room by myself at night or been in a room that got dark at night. I just couldn’t handle being alone,” she said.

Since her release, Winner has talked about her experience and confessed that she could have gone through proper channels to ensure her safety as a whistleblower. “I have apologized, and I’m currently serving that sentence. However, I was treated very harshly, and I don’t wish that on anybody,” she said. In her interview on 60 Minutes, she said, “I am not a traitor. I am not a spy. I am somebody who only acted out of love for what this country stands for.”

She also talked about her disappointment in the events in the aftermath of the leak and her arrest. She said that the punishment wasn’t the worst part. It was “just knowing that you really didn’t change anything. Nobody cares.” She added: “The people on the left who pretend to champion you. They really didn’t do anything for you. The people in the center won’t say your name. And the people on the right still think you’re a terrorist.”

As for the documentary, the play, and the movie about her, Winner has kept her distance from all of them. Speaking about the time when she tried to watch it, she said: “I had a physical reaction to it — I started shaking really bad. Whenever I see a news clip about me or read something about me in the third person, I still have a really, really traumatic response to it.” Instead of revisiting the past, she has focused on bettering her mental, physical, and spiritual health. She also advocates for amendments in the carceral system to provide options other than prison time for rehabilitating criminals.

Read More: Is Reality Winner Her Real Name?