‘Reality’ True Story Explained: Is Reality Leigh Winner Released From Prison?


Directed by Tina Satter, Reality, the HBO original, is based on the play Is This a Room? The most fascinating thing about the play written by Satter is that it is verbatim derived from the interview that the FBI conducted with Winner. The film is based on absolutely true events, though instead of making us privy to the background and showing us the aftermath, it focuses on that short time span when the FBI came with a search warrant to Winner’s house and charged her for violating the Espionage Act after interrogating her. Obviously, creative liberties would have been taken by the makers, not with respect to the facts but with respect to how the actors perceived that interview held between Winner and the FBI and brought out their own version to the screen. Sydney Sweeney has outdone herself, and she has portrayed the character of Reality Winner in a subtle and nuanced manner. So, let’s find out why the Trump administration got scared of a woman dedicated to her cause and why they went to such an extent to stop her and suppress her voice.

Why Was Reality Charged Under The Espionage Act?

Reality Winner, after serving in the United States Air Force, started working for the NSA as a linguist on a contractual basis. Her military background helped her get a job at Pluribus International, and that’s when she came across a document through which she got to know that there was a lot of foul play happening in the legislative wing pertaining to the elections that were going to be held in 2016. Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton were against each other in that election, and there were rumors that the former was indulging in certain illegitimate activities. Through that document, Reality found that the rumors were not baseless and that there were a few things that the Trump regime was hiding from the people of the United States of America. Russian president, Vladimir Putin had launched an operation named Project Lakhta, under which a Russian research agency had made several fake accounts on social media whose main aim was to promote and create hype for all the events that Trump was organizing. Trump, time and again, denied that he had any sort of agreement with Russia, but the U.S. intelligence agencies were of the opinion that he was lying. In the end, after the FBI conducted a thorough investigation, it was concluded that, though Donald Trump knew what Russia was up to, there wasn’t sufficient evidence to prove his direct involvement and press any charges.

There was a lot of misinformation that was spread during this time on various social media portals. People, in general, have a habit of not verifying the information they read online, and the Donald Trump regime took utmost advantage of that. The lies that they sought to spread were created in such a manner that it became very hard for a common man to point out the fallacies in them. The systematic brainwashing did have an impact, as a result of which, in 2017, Donald Trump became America’s president. The essence of democracy was crushed to pieces, extensive measures were taken out to polarize the population, and a dictator thrived amidst all the hate and chaos.

When Reality approached a website called The Intercept for publishing her document, the government was obviously not going to stay quiet. Reality wanted to enter the hornet’s nest, but she had forgotten that she couldn’t stand against a regime that was orchestrating lies on such a huge level and was willing to do anything to hide the truth. Reality needed support from influential players, which she didn’t get at the time, and she was caught by the FBI and sent to serve prison time for five years. The opposition used the NSA document to pin the blame on the Trump administration; some called the article the best thing to have happened in the national interest; a lot of people felt that Reality was right in doing what she did, yet she was sent to prison. The HBO Max original, Reality, shows us glimpses of what happened before the FBI arrived at Winner’s house. She had stolen the classified document and posted it to the Intercept’s official address, and more than anything, she believed that a media house that wanted to bring out the truth to the people would keep her identity a secret and help her cause. But nothing of that sort happened, and through the people working at The Intercept, the FBI was able to find out who was responsible for the leak.

Did She Have The Quran At Her House? Is Reality Released From Prison?

A marked Quran was found at Reality’s house, but it was not because she had links to terrorist organizations from the Middle East but because she was interested in knowing about different religions, and especially Islam considering she was translating languages from Muslim majority countries. But the prosecution showed no integrity, and they argued in court that she was fascinated with the ideologies of the Islamic terrorist organization, and they tried to discredit her so that whatever she found against the government would be considered mere propaganda. In 2018, Reality pleaded guilty to the transmission of classified information, and she was sentenced to 5 years and three months in prison but was released in 2021 on account of good behavior. The Donald Trump regime tried to suppress her voice, and from calling her a jihadist to raising doubts about her credibility, they did everything that they could to save their reputation. There were still a lot of people who blindly followed Trump and believed that his extremist ideologies would do the nation a lot of good, but Reality’s sacrifice did not go in vain. Though the investigation could never prove Trump’s direct involvement, the people had come to know what he was up to. Reality was often asked why she put her life in jeopardy and undertook such a lethal task for which she knew that she would never be given credit. Reality always said that she had a duty towards her own people, and she couldn’t see them getting tricked. 

In 2021, Trump was impeached, and no matter how hard his administration tried to create its own narrative, the people of the nation had realized the truth. Any administration whose foundation is built of lies and deceit is scared of the people who unabashedly speak the truth. They are averse to reason and logic because they know that if people start asking the right question, their foundations will start shaking. Reality would be known for her sacrifice and magnanimity for generations to come as she served the nation unconditionally without expecting any sort of appreciation in return.

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Sushrut Gopesh
Sushrut Gopesh
I came to Mumbai to bring characters to life. I like to dwell in the cinematic world and ponder over philosophical thoughts. I believe in the kind of cinema that not necessarily makes you laugh or cry but moves something inside you.

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