Brittney Griner is at Russia's 'harshest' prison colony known for 'slave-like conditions' and 'daily torture,' a former inmate says
- Brittney Griner has been moved to a Russian penal colony where she'll serve her 9-year prison sentence.
- A Russian musician who spent 2 years in a penal colony told MSNBC what Griner should expect.
Brittney Griner's experience at a Russian penal colony is looking increasingly bleak.
The WNBA superstar was moved to female penal colony No. 2 — a facility in Russia's Mordovia region that traces its roots to a Gulag labor camp dubbed Temlag — to serve a nine-year sentence for traveling into Russia with vape cartridges containing less than a gram of cannabis oil.
Nadya Tolokonnikova, a member of the musical group "Pussy Riot" who famously spent two years in a Russian penal colony on "hooliganism" charges, says she's "terrified" for Griner after learning about her placement.
"I'm terrified that Brittney Griner was moved to IK-2," Tolokonnikova told MSNBC. "It's one of the harshest colonies — it is literally the harshest colony in the whole Russian prison system."
"I was protesting terrible conditions in my penal colony," she added, referring to the notorious IK-14 just a few miles away. "But I know every single chief official who works at IK-2, and I know exactly what human rights abuses they perform on a daily basis and the kind of torture they use against prisoners."
Tolokonnikova went on to describe "slave-like conditions" within the 820-woman capacity facility in Yavas. Prisoners are expected to perform manual labor — including tasks like cooking, cleaning, and sewing — for "up to 17 hours a day" without breaks or days off.
Individuals like Griner are expected to meet output quotas that are often unreasonably high. And if they don't meet those standards, Tolokonnikova says they'll "be punished, and that includes torture — and that includes daily torture."
"A lot of prisoners just cannot stand it and some of them decide to commit suicide," she said, adding that "medical help is practically nonexistent. And, let's say, you're being tortured and go to prison doctors to document the fact that you've been tortured, obviously, they do not see anything and are not witnesses of your torture.
"What I'm really scared of is Brittney hiding the fact that she is being heavily oppressed in this penal colony, because that's what happened with me," Tolokonnikova continued. "I was told that if I'm going to say to one single person about abuses, the whole penal colony is gonna suffer because of me. And I didn't open my mouth for a year."
Eventually, the then-24-year-old found the courage to speak out in the form of a hunger strike. Several of the high-ranking officials at her penal colony have since been tried and convicted of wrongdoing.
Now, some 10 years later, the musician advises that Griner take her incarceration "minute to minute because you never know when you're gonna get attacked."
"What gives me hope is that, normally, prisoners that have some media attention, they're not getting tortured," Tolokonnikova said. "I wasn't physically tortured. They used physical force against me, just to move me places, but they didn't beat me. They didn't rape me. Unfortunately, rape happens in IK-2 as well."
"What gave me strength is understanding that it's gonna be finished at some point and always realizing that you have a level of protection because you have lawyers, you have media attention — things that other prisoners do not have," she added. "What I would suggest to Brittney if I could [would be] to not work at the sweatshops. You might think for a second that if I'm gonna follow the rules, then my life is gonna be better, but in fact, those conditions are horrific."
According to Tolokonnikova, the sewing machines are "so old" that they inevitably result in injuries to prisoners. She described an instance in which the needle pierced her finger, leaving her "covered in blood" but still being forced to sew uniforms for police officers and Russian military officials.
And while the alternative of solitary confinement sounds even worse, Tolokonnikova insists that it's actually "better than working on a daily basis in these aggressive, slave-like labor conditions."
Her full interview with MSNBC is available below:
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