With the Biden administration’s proposed prisoner swap still on hold, WNBA star Brittney Griner will begin serving her nine-year prison sentence in a Russian penal colony.
Last week, a Russian court sentenced Griner to nine years on drug charges nearly six months after authorities found cannabis oil in her bag at a Moscow airport.
Hope for Griner to leave Russia early lies in her lawyers successfully appealing her sentence or the Biden administration sealing the deal on their proposed prisoner exchange.
With both options still in the works, for now, Griner will live in one of the 35 women’s penal colonies in Russia.
Each penal colony cell has about 11 feet of private space where up to 60 women sleep in bunk beds, Ivan Melnikov, the vice president of the Russian Department of the International Human Rights Defense Committee, and Yekaterina Kalugina, a Russian human rights activist told People Magazine.
“Brittney is being held in a detention cell within a penal colony,” Melnikov said. “At the detention center, the spaces are cramped and there’s only a small exercise yard, but there is a benefit to staying there — each day counts as two towards a prison sentence.”
Melnikov and Kalugina said the conditions of each colony heavily depend on the prisoner governor, and some are much stricter than others.
Every morning, prisoners “are woken at 6 a.m., they wash, dress, make their beds, stand to attention for the register, go to breakfast and then start an eight-hour working day, usually as seamstresses,” Melnikov said.
Outside of their eight-hour-a-day work requirements, prisoner governors usually give their inmates at least 30 minutes of free time where they can “just chat with each other, read a book from the library, write letters home, play sports, play board games and call friends and family,” Melnikov added.
According to the Russian human rights activist, prisoners are supposed to receive a wage of $180 per month that can be used to buy items in the prison shop such as toiletries, tampons, cigarettes, fresh fruit and vegetables, and internet service to contact their loved ones.
Experts say the conditions of these colonies are generally difficult. Tuberculosis is common among prisoners as they are left malnourished from limited food supplies and medical care.
However, Griner may be able to serve as a women’s basketball coach instead of a seamstress during her eight-hour work days. This decision will be left up to her prison governor.
“I hope that she will be sent to a colony with a lenient governor who allows her to coach basketball in the daytime rather than being a seamstress,” Melnikov said. “Prisoners are encouraged to play sports or do yoga and so on, and basketball is popular. I think that would be the best thing for her.”