In his nearly 15 months in Moscow’s infamous Lefortovo prison, Evan Gershkovich has plowed through Russian literary classics such as "War and Peace,” and played slow-moving chess by mail with his father in the United States. He tries to keep himself in shape during the hourlong exercise period he is permitted each day.

Friends who correspond with him describe Gershkovich, a Wall Street Journal reporter, as positive, strong and rarely discouraged despite facing the official wrath of President Vladimir Putin’s Russia.

"He may have ups and downs like everyone else, but he remains confident in himself, in his rightness,” said Maria Borzunova, a Russian journalist and a friend of Gershkovich's.