Brittney Griner faces bleak life in Russian penal colony


Tedious guide work, poor hygiene and lack of entry to medical care – such are the circumstances awaiting US basketball star Brittney Griner in a Russian penal colony after she misplaced her enchantment final week towards a nine-year drug sentence.

It’s a world acquainted to Maria Alyokhina, a member of feminist artwork ensemble Pussy Riot who spent practically two years as an inmate for her half in a 2012 punk protest in a Moscow cathedral towards President Vladimir Putin.

The very first thing to know, Alyokhina stated in an interview, is {that a} penal colony is not any unusual jail.

“This is not a building with cells. This looks like a strange village, like a Gulag labor camp,” she stated, referring to the huge penal community established by Soviet dictator Josef Stalin to isolate and crush inmates.

“It actually is a labor camp because by law all the prisoners should work. The quite cynical thing about this work is that prisoners usually sew police uniforms and uniforms for the Russian army, almost without salary.”

The colony was divided between a manufacturing unit space the place the prisoners made clothes and gloves and a “living zone” the place Alyokhina stated 80 ladies lived in a single room with simply three bathrooms and no scorching water.

Griner, a two-time Olympic gold medallist, might quickly be transferred to a colony within the absence of an extra enchantment or an settlement between Washington and Moscow to swap her for a Russian arms vendor jailed in america – a chance that was floated months in the past however has but to materialize.

In a Pussy Riot present that has toured the world and is now taking part in in Britain, Alyokhina relives the recollections of her time as an inmate – snowy jail yards, plank-like beds, lengthy spells in solitary confinement and punishment for minor infringements reminiscent of an unbuttoned coat or poorly hooked up nametag.

She was always being videoed by jail guards “because I am a ‘famous provocateur’,” she added.

Russia’s jail service didn’t reply to a request for remark for this text.

A more moderen penal colony detainee, Yelena, described an analogous regime to that skilled by Alyokhina a decade in the past.

Yelena, 34, served eight years in a Siberian colony after being convicted for possession of medicine.

She stated she was paid about 1,000 roubles ($16) a month for toiling 10-12 hours a day in a stitching workshop.

“Girls with a strong, athletic build are often given much heavier jobs. For example, they load sacks of flour for a prison bakery or unload mountains of coal,” she stated.

Prisoners might face punishment for inexplicable “offenses” reminiscent of putting a wristwatch on a bedside desk.

The last word sanction was solitary confinement, generally known as “the Vatican.”

“Just as the Vatican is a state within a state, solitary confinement is a prison within a prison,” Yelena stated.

A gynecologist paid a month-to-month go to to her colony, the place greater than 800 ladies had been imprisoned.

“You do the math, what are the chances of being the one to get through to a doctor? Practically zero,” she stated.

For a foreigner with little or no Russian, it’s tougher to navigate the system and cope with the isolation.

The brother of Paul Whelan, a former U.S. Marine serving 16 years in a Russian penal colony on espionage costs that he denies, stated he’s granted a 15-minute telephone name every day to his mother and father, can’t name different relations or pals, and has no entry to e-mail or the web.

David Whelan stated his brother should work no less than eight hours a day, six days every week, on menial duties like making buttonholes, which has precipitated him repetitive pressure harm.

Inmates sleep in barrack-like buildings and entry to many requirements, together with medication, relies on paying bribes to jail guards, he stated.

Situations can rely closely on the whims of guards, the warden or elder inmates.

Paul appears to make use of his army coaching “to get through just day to day, to figure out what battles to fight and which battles not to fight,” David Whelan stated.

“His phone calls even to our parents are recorded. His letters were all translated before they went out. So you know that everything you do is being watched and you really have no sense of individuality.”

Alyokhina stated receiving playing cards and letters from the skin world supplied a uncommon ray of hope, and she or he urged individuals to help Griner that method.

She stated they need to use a machine translation and ship the textual content in each English and Russian to get it extra simply previous the jail censor.

“Do not leave someone alone with this system,” she stated. “It’s totally inhuman, it’s a Gulag, and when you feel yourself alone there, it’s much easier to give up.”