This awaits American basketball star Griner in Russian penal colony

Griner lost the appeal against her drug conviction in early November and was subsequently transferred from a Moscow detention center to a penal colony. Her lawyers have now confirmed that she is being held in the IK-2 women’s penal colony in the remote village of Yavas in Mordovia, 500 km southeast of the capital.

A prison with several rows of low-rise buildings housing common barracks for prisoners and separate buildings with workshops. The American is locked up there with 820 other women. In a fairly ‘loose’ regime, although that is a relative term in Russian prisons.

Days without daylight

The difference with prisons for long-term and severe sentences lies in the number of family visits allowed per month, the frequency that packages with food or clothing can be delivered and the severity of the sentences for breaking prison rules.

If Griner and her fellow inmates don’t behave, they could be punished by spending time in jail. Days, sometimes weeks. Without a walk and therefore without daylight. Those punishments are imposed quite arbitrarily, it sounds. Some can afford very much, other detainees get a sanction for the least.

About thirteen percent of the prisoners in Russia are for drug offenses. Griner admitted to carrying cannabis oil vape cartridges in her luggage when she returned to Russia in February to play club basketball during the US off-season. She said she was not aware of any harm and thought she would soon be released by the police. But that is seriously disappointing.


She may be an NBA champion and Olympic gold medalist, but she doesn’t speak Russian and there are no prisons for foreigners. So she ends up in the same regime as the Russian women. And does she sleep on a bed that is too small instead of in a hotel room, which you used to do in recent years.


Violence such as in prisons for men is fortunately less common among women. But Olga Podoplelova of the NGO “Russia behind bars” says life is not easy for inmates: “There is no established informal prison hierarchy in women’s prisons, but the administration controls everything and there are plenty of ways to make a prisoner’s life in a hell to change.”


Griner will probably have to work in a sewing workshop and, given her height, she will probably have to do so in a squatting position because her long legs cannot reach under the low sewing tables.

Hard work for few dollars

“Inmates work 12 to 16 hours a day with lunch and toilet breaks,” says Podoplelova. “The daily quota is very high, the earnings are very low. Especially for a top basketball player who earned her living well. She will hardly earn a few dollars a month there.”

The Yavas penal colony where Griner is reportedly imprisoned also has a poor record of abuse and intimidation. “I worked there as a seamstress and if you don’t reach the production speed, you get beaten,” former prisoner Irina Noskova told the Russian New Times.

Attempts to fight for more prisoners’ rights are rare in Russia. Because every action, by force if necessary, is suppressed and the participants are punished.

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