Brittany Griner is set to spend time in one of Russia’s penal colonies, where abuse is common, disease is rampant, and labor is forced.

Brittany Griner is led from the courtroom after her Russia trial.Evgenia Novozina/Pool/Reuters

  • WNBA superstar Brittany Griner was convicted of drug trafficking and sentenced to nine years in a Russian prison in February after customs agents found cannabis-infused vape cartridges in her luggage.

  • Gerner’s legal team has appealed the decision, but if her sentence is not overturned and she is not included in a prisoner exchange between the United States and Russia, the eight-time WNBA All-Star will serve her sentence. will pay in the penal colony.

  • A direct descendant of the Soviet Union’s infamous Gulag system, Russian penal colonies are prison labor camps known as incubators of disease, with human rights abuses rampant.

  • Here’s what we know about Russian penal colonies and what Greiner’s experience might have been like:

Brittany Griner is one of the most successful basketball players on the planet.

Brittany Griner.

Griner.Reuters/Brian Snyder

A 6-foot-9 superstar for the Phoenix Mercury, Griner is an eight-time WNBA All-Star, two-time scoring champion, two-time Defensive Player of the Year, and WNBA champion.

Brittany Griner.

Brittany Griner.AP Photo/Rick Scotteri

He also won two Olympic gold medals with Team USA.

Brittany Griner.

Brittany Griner.AP Photo/Eric Gay

When she’s not competing in the WNBA or USA Basketball, Griner takes her talents overseas to supplement her income.

Brittany Griner and UMMC Ekaterinburg.

Griner and his UMMC Ekaterinburg teammates celebrate winning the EuroLeague.Reuters/ Murad Caesar

An American basketball superstar has been detained in Russia over the WNBA’s low salaries.

Every year since 2014 — just her second stint out of college — Griner has traveled to Russia to compete for European powerhouse UMMC Ekaterinburg.

Griner (right) competes for Russian club UMMC Ekaterinburg during the WNBA offseason.

Griner (right) competes for Russian club UMMC Ekaterinburg during the WNBA offseason.BSR Agency/Getty Images

Brittany Griner’s Russian team — owned by a Putin-linked oligarch — is a hot spot for WNBA superstars.

The 2021-22 WNBA offseason was no exception. Greiner was on her way to the Urals city in February when she was stopped at the Moscow airport.

Brittany Griner.

REUTERS/Evgenia Novozhenina/Pool

Russian customs agents found vape cartridges containing hemp oil in the WNBA star’s luggage and later detained her.

Brittany Griner.

Dmitry Serebryakov/AP Photo

About six months later, Griner was convicted of drug trafficking “with criminal intent” and sentenced to nine years in a Russian prison.

Brittany Griner

WNBA star and two-time Olympic gold medalist Brittany Griner is led from a courtroom after her final words Thursday, Aug. 4, 2022, in Khimki, just outside Moscow, Russia.AP Photo/Alexander Zemlyanchenko

Brittany Griner was sentenced to 9 years in a Russian prison after being found guilty of drug charges.

His legal team has since appealed the decision, but the move is unlikely to grant him freedom or reduce his sentence.

Brittany Griner.

Evgenia Novozina/Pool/Reuters

Brittany Griner has appealed her 9-year Russian prison sentence, but the move is unlikely to free the WNBA star.

Unless she is released in a prisoner exchange between the United States and Russia, Greiner will almost certainly spend some time in a Russian penal colony.

Brittany Griner.

Kirill Kudryavtsev/Pool via REUTERS

Brittany Griner’s freedom may hinge on an unconventional prisoner swap involving a former U.S. Marine and a notorious Russian arms dealer.

Russian penal colonies are prison labor camps that are essentially remnants of the Soviet Union’s infamous gulag system.

Russian Penal Colony.

REUTERS/Ilya Naymushin

Griner will be sent to one of the country’s 35 or so women’s penal colonies.

Brittany Griner

WNBA star and two-time Olympic gold medalist Brittany Griner leaves a courtroom after a hearing Friday, May 13, 2022, in Khimki, just outside Moscow, Russia.A.P

Source: People

Each facility varies in its reputation and treatment of inmates based on its geographic location and its leadership structure.

Russian women's prison.

AP Photo/Yuri Tutovo

Some, like Prison Colony No. 14 in Mordovia, are notoriously brutal.

Russian penal colony in Moldova.

MAXIM MARMUR/AFP via Getty Images

Prisoners there are said to live among rats, lose fingers while working 17-hour days on sewing machines, and are forced to watch guards burn kittens alive.

Russian prisoners work on sewing machines.

Reuters

Source: Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty

And while other facilities are not known to be as harsh, the penitentiary system has several troubling commonalities.

Russian Penal Colony.

REUTERS/Tatyana Makeyeva

Dilapidated infrastructure is known to limit access to running water and heat, especially in more remote locations.

Russian Penal Colony.

AP Photo/Laura Mills

Source: Center for Eastern Studies

As a result, the hygiene of prisoners is often neglected.

The Russian prisoner washes her hands with water from the pot.

REUTERS/Ilya Naymushin

Colonies are severely overcrowded, with most prisoners living in close quarters with about 50 others.

Russian Panel Colony Barracks.

AP Photo/Yuri Tutovo

Source: People

Russian law mandates that each prisoner have 20 square feet of personal space, but this standard — which falls short of the requirements of the European Convention on Human Rights — is often not met in Russian facilities.

Russian prison barracks.

LIFE.RU/Handout via REUTERS TV

Source: Center for Eastern Studies

Between the close proximity of prisoners to each other and the lack of basic hygiene, penal colonies in Russia are known as incubators for epidemics.

Russian Penal Colony.

AP Photo/Yuri Tutovo

AIDS, tuberculosis, COVID-19, and other diseases are spreading rapidly.

A prisoner is examined in a Russian prison hospital.

Russian Federal Penitentiary Service via AP

Source: Center for Eastern Studies, Riddle

And women in the system are often denied medical care, never mind proper medical care.

A patient in a Russian hospital.

AP Photo/Vitaly Timkiv

Source: Riddle

Despite criticism that the system resembled Joseph Stalin’s gulags, the Russian government reintroduced forced labor in 2016.

Forced labor in a Russian penal colony.

REUTERS/Ilya Naymushin

Source: VOA News

Most women cook, clean or sew to meet this need.

The prison cook prepares the food.

Vanessa Jimenez/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

And former inmates at Russian all-female penal colonies have said that “voluntary” overtime work is actually mandatory, with guards threatening retaliation if they don’t sign on for extra work.

Forced labor in a Russian prison camp.

REUTERS/Ilya Naymushin

Source: Riddle

As a result, some women are forced to work 16- or 17-hour days with only four hours of sleep each night.

Russian prisoners work planting cabbage.

REUTERS/Ilya Naymushin

Source: Riddle

There is no torture in these facilities.

Russian Panel Colony Guard.

REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov

Source: Center for Eastern Studies

And when it comes to abuse, “official statistics also indicate that it is widely practiced,” according to a commentary piece by the Center for Eastern Studies.

Russian Penal Colony.

REUTERS/Ilya Naymushin

But it’s possible that Griner will have a less traumatic experience — that is, if she ends up going to a penal colony at all.

Brittany Griner.

Dmitry Serebryakov/AP Photo

Ivan Melnikov, vice president of the Russian department of the Committee for the Defense of International Human Rights, told PEOPLE that if Griner was “sent to a colony with a mild-mannered governor,” he might “be allowed to coach basketball.” is “seamstress.”

Brittany Griner (left) shoots over fellow WNBA All-Star Aja Wilson.

Brittany Griner (left) shoots over fellow WNBA All-Star Aja Wilson.AP Photo/Rick Scotteri

Source: People

People also pointed out that such a move is not unprecedented, as “Russian soccer players Alexander Kokurin and Pavel Mamayev spent time in one of the colonies coaching prisoners.”

Russian football players Alexander Kokurin and Pavel Mamayev.

Mike Kariff/Noor Photo via Getty Images

Source: People

Malenkov also told PEOPLE that prisoners usually get “half an hour to two hours a day” of free time, with which they can “chat with each other, read a book from the library, go home.” You can write letters, play games, play board games, and call friends and family.”

Brittany (left) and Cheryl Greiner.

Brittany (left) and Cheryl Greiner.Douglas P. DeFiles/Getty Images

Source: People

But even accounting for Gurner’s chance at relative normalcy within the Penal Colony, his experience there will undoubtedly be challenging.

Brittany Griner.

REUTERS/Evgenia Novozhenina/Pool

In the meantime, he and his supporters can only hope for a prisoner exchange between the US and Russia.

Brittany Griner.

Alexander Zemlyanchenko/Pool/Reuters

The Biden administration reportedly offered the convicted arms trafficker the release of Brittany Griner and another American being held in Russia.

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