On October 25, the Russian government rejected Brittney Griner’s appeal against her drug charges, and Griner will serve nine years of prison in Russia. “We are very disappointed,” said Griner’s attorneys Maria Blagovolina and Alexander Boykov. “We still think the punishment is excessive and contradicts the existing court practice.”
Last February, Griner traveled to Yekaterinburg to play for the UMMC Ekaterinburg, a Russian women’s basketball team, during the WNBA offseason. However, cannabis was found in her luggage during the security check because she had been using it to treat her pain. Despite having a doctor’s prescription, cannabis was still banned in Russia, so she was detained on Feb. 17.
The trial was held in August, where Griner pleaded guilty to drug possession charges, but insisted that there was no criminal intent. At the start of the trial, she had spent almost eight months in pre-trial detention. Unfortunately, the trial did not end in her favor, and now she is to serve for 9 years in a penal colony.
The penal colony is a terrible place to live in. “This is not a building with cells,” said Maria Alyokhina, a former prison inmate. “[It] looks like a strange village, like a Gulag labor camp.” The camp is split into two areas: the factory area and the living zone. The factory area is where people create clothing, mainly sewing Russian police and army uniforms. The living zone is where the 80 women live together in one room with three toilets and no hot water.
Additionally, the language barrier poses a large issue for Griner. The guards have often punished the inmates for the pettiest things: having an unbuttoned coat, setting a watch down on a table, having a messily attached nametag, etc. Basic needs like medicine also depend on the guards, and they often won’t comply without being bribed. “It’s been very very stressful and very traumatic to my mental and psychic [state] and to my family who I haven’t been able to communicate,” Griner said.
The US Government is currently trying to arrange a prisoner swap with Russia to exchange Viktor Bout, a Russian arms dealer who is currently serving 25 years in prison for threats to kill Americans, for both American captives Britney Griner and Paul Whelan. “I can also tell you that in the subsequent weeks despite a lack of good faith negotiation by the Russians, the US government has continued to follow up on that offer and propose alternative potential ways forward with Russians through all available channels,” said White House Secretary Jean-Pierre. “This continues to be a top priority.”
The whole debacle has been quite difficult for both Griner and her family. “I can’t believe that I’m… living without my favorite person, my greatest love, biggest support, and just sanctuary,” said Cherelle Griner, wife of Brittney Griner. “Language truly fails to capture the excruciating pain that stems from having a loved one held hostage.” Cherelle has been quite outspoken in her support for Brittney and has spoken with lawmakers and President Joe Biden about bringing Brittney back to America.