Multiple former inmates at the Russian IK-2 penal colony at Mordovia 250 miles east of Moscow have said that WNBA athlete Brittney Griner will face “brutal” conditions during her nine-year incarceration for entering the country with cannabis oil, an illegal substance under Russian law.
Nadya Tolokonnikova, a member of the controversial Russian band Pussy Riot told The Nation, that “beatings and torture” and commonly employed at the prison. During her own two-year stay, she told the outlet that she worked 16-hour days.
“As the inmates say, ‘If you haven’t done time in Mordovia, you haven’t done time,'” Tolokonnikova warned in a letter published in 2013.
Tolokonnikova’s bandmate Maria Alyokhina told Reuters, “This is not a building with cells. This looks like a strange village, like a Gulag labor camp.”
Adding, “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.”
Veronika Krass, another former inmate told The Daily Mail that the IK-4 prison nearby has a sign at the entrance saying, “welcome to hell.”
Gelena Alekseyeva, a Russian ex-deputy minister, was sentenced in 2013 to 3 1/2 years in prison for her role in commercial bribery. Alekseyeva described to The Daily Mail how many women react to being sentenced to Mordovia.
“When the girls find out that they’re going to Mordovia, they cut their wrists, do everything possible: get sick, swallow nails, just so they don’t have to go there. Its reputation is known, especially after the letter by Nadia Tolokonnikova.”
According to The Moscow Times, the complex of penal colonies surrounding the village of Yavas in Mordavia was built in 1921, as the notorious Soviet Gulag archipelago.
Olga Romanova, the head of Rus Sidyashchaya (Russia Behind Bars,) an organization that defends the rights of Russian prisoners currently living in Germany, said by local standards Griner’s conditions are “normal.”
While the conditions and beatings at IK-2 are “not far from slavery,” she said, “there are much worst prisons” in Russia. Romanova added that Griner being “lesbian, American, and black,” are three additional reasons for concern.
In the Russian prison, Americans are reportedly seen as “a mortal enemy” Romanova said, and “extremely violent homophobia and racism abound,” the Moscow Times reported.
“It’s a good thing she doesn’t speak Russian, she won’t be able to understand what people say to her,” Romanova told the Times. “I think that could solve some of her problems.”