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Brittney Griner faces bleak life in Russian penal colony


Tedious guide work, poor hygiene and lack of entry to medical care – such are the situations awaiting US basketball star Brittney Griner in a Russian penal colony after she lost her appeal final week in opposition to a nine-year drug sentence.

It’s a world acquainted to Maria Alyokhina, a member of feminist artwork ensemble Pussy Riot who spent almost two years as an inmate for her half in a 2012 punk protest in a Moscow cathedral in opposition to President Vladimir Putin.

The very first thing to grasp, Alyokhina stated in an interview, is {that a} penal colony is not any strange jail.

“This isn’t a constructing with cells. This seems to be like a wierd village, like a Gulag labor camp,” she stated, referring to the huge penal community established by Soviet dictator Josef Stalin to isolate and crush inmates.

“It really is a labor camp as a result of by regulation all of the prisoners ought to work. The fairly cynical factor about this work is that prisoners often sew police uniforms and uniforms for the Russian military, nearly with out wage.”

The colony was divided between a manufacturing unit space the place the prisoners made clothes and gloves and a “dwelling zone” the place Alyokhina stated 80 ladies lived in a single room with simply three bathrooms and no sizzling water.

Griner, a two-time Olympic gold medallist, might quickly be transferred to a colony within the absence of an extra attraction or an settlement between Washington and Moscow to swap her for a Russian arms supplier jailed in the US – a risk that was floated months in the past however has but to materialize.

In a Pussy Riot present that has toured the world and is now taking part in in Britain, Alyokhina relives the recollections of her time as an inmate – snowy jail yards, plank-like beds, lengthy spells in solitary confinement and punishment for minor infringements reminiscent of an unbuttoned coat or poorly connected nametag.

She was continuously being videoed by jail guards “as a result of I’m a ‘well-known provocateur’,” she added.

Russia’s jail service didn’t reply to a request for remark for this text.

A more moderen penal colony detainee, Yelena, described the same regime to that skilled by Alyokhina a decade in the past.

Yelena, 34, served eight years in a Siberian colony after being convicted for possession of medication.

She stated she was paid about 1,000 roubles ($16) a month for toiling 10-12 hours a day in a stitching workshop.

“Women with a robust, athletic construct are sometimes given a lot heavier jobs. For instance, they load sacks of flour for a jail bakery or unload mountains of coal,” she stated.

Prisoners might face punishment for inexplicable “offenses” reminiscent of inserting a wristwatch on a bedside desk.

The final word sanction was solitary confinement, generally known as “the Vatican.”

“Simply because the Vatican is a state inside a state, solitary confinement is a jail inside a jail,” Yelena stated.

A gynecologist paid a month-to-month go to to her colony, the place greater than 800 ladies had been imprisoned.

“You do the mathematics, what are the probabilities of being the one to get by way of to a physician? Virtually zero,” she stated.

For a foreigner with little or no Russian, it’s tougher to navigate the system and take care of the isolation.

The brother of Paul Whelan, a former U.S. Marine serving 16 years in a Russian penal colony on espionage costs that he denies, stated he’s granted a 15-minute telephone name every day to his dad and mom, can’t name different members of the family or mates, and has no entry to e-mail or the web.

David Whelan stated his brother should work a minimum of eight hours a day, six days per week, on menial duties like making buttonholes, which has triggered him repetitive pressure harm.

Inmates sleep in barrack-like buildings and entry to many requirements, together with medication, depends upon paying bribes to jail guards, he stated.

Circumstances can rely closely on the whims of guards, the warden or elder inmates.

Paul appears to make use of his navy coaching “to get by way of simply daily, to determine what battles to combat and which battles to not combat,” David Whelan stated.

“His telephone calls even to our dad and mom are recorded. His letters had been all translated earlier than they went out. So that every thing you do is being watched and you actually don’t have any sense of individuality.”

Alyokhina stated receiving playing cards and letters from the surface world provided a uncommon ray of hope, and he or she urged individuals to help Griner that approach.

She stated they need to use a machine translation and ship the textual content in each English and Russian to get it extra simply previous the jail censor.

“Don’t go away somebody alone with this method,” she stated. “It’s completely inhuman, it’s a Gulag, and if you really feel your self alone there, it’s a lot simpler to surrender.”

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