WNBA star Brittney Griner was convicted of cannabis possession and smuggling in Russia on Thursday and was sentenced to nine years in prison.
While it’s not clear exactly where she will be serving out her unusually harsh sentence — which she is appealing — Griner may return to the female penal facility where she has spent the last six months outside of Moscow.
The prison, dubbed Correctional Colony No. 1 or IK-1, is no Stalin-era gulag but seems bleak at best.
The facility is a former orphanage, rebuilt and converted ten years ago into a pretrial detention center and prison where women live out their sentences, the New York Times reported last month.
Located in the village of Novoye Grishino, the overwhelmingly gray and artificially lit prison has its own sewing factory and Russian Orthodox church inside.
Video footage of the facility shows towering gray walls topped with barbed wire and gives a glimpse inside of the sewing factory where dozens of women appear to be working.
A large, rusting statue of Lenin sits in a snow-filled courtyard.
Journalist Yekaterina Kalugina visited Griner while she was at the facility, and told The Times that each day is repetitive and monotonous for the Phoenix Mercury Center.
Each morning inmates wake up, and eat a basic meal in her cell, Kalugina said. They are then permitted to walk around the courtyard. They then spend the rest of the day either reading books or watching Russian television.
Uniquely, the cells have a private washroom but the inmates are only allowed to shower twice a week, she said. They are permitted to order food online and keep food in an available refrigerator.
The prison was also formerly home to Israeli-American Naama Issachar, who was arrested in 2019 and sentenced to over seven years in prison after Russian police said they found marijuana in her luggage while she was connecting flights in Moscow. Vladimir Putin later pardoned her for drug trafficking in 2020.
Issachar was detained as a political pawn between Russia and Israel, just as Griner is with the United States now.
Yaffa Issachar, Naama’s mother, told The Times her daughter spent three months at IK-1. She said filling out the paperwork to enter the prison to visit Naama could take up to four hours followed by a tedious inspection of each item of food she had brought.
She was treated relatively well, her mother said, and was allowed a visit from a rabbi once a week. Issachar recalled the statue of Lenin as well as the sound of guard dogs barking.
Issachar’s mother told The Times her daughter sobbed when she heard about Griner and is worried that as a gay woman she could be subjected to much harsher treatment in conservative Russia.
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