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Diario Extra – The ‘land of prisons’ where Brittney Griner serves her sentence in Russia

The double Olympic gold medalist was arrested in February at a Moscow airport in possession of a vaporizer containing a cannabis-based liquid and sentenced in August to 9 years in prison for “drug trafficking.”

Griner, 32, claimed that he used the product as an analgesic, and with the authorization of his doctor, due to pain caused by intensive basketball practice.

The case took on a geopolitical dimension in the context of the crisis between Moscow and Washington over the Russian offensive in Ukraine. Close friends of the athlete affirm that the Russian authorities want to use it in an eventual exchange of prisoners with the United States.

“In general, detainees considered ‘particularly dangerous’ are brought here,” says Vitali Doine, a 48-year-old ex-convict who spent ten years in a Mordovian penal colony and became a taxi driver in the village of Iavas, where the IK-2 stands. .

The man says he is “surprised” that a world famous sportswoman has been sent to that “hole”, surrounded by forests and swamps already covered in snow, 400 km southeast of Moscow.

The Russian Republic of Mordovia is home to about twenty prisons. According to Vitali, in the region they are all “red”, a term that in prison jargon designates those controlled by thugs, as opposed to “black”, dominated by mafias.

– ‘Lesbian, American and black’ –

Iava was founded in 1921, when the Soviet internment camp system, or Gulag, was beginning to be established, and until now it is structured around the prison system, since the majority of its inhabitants work or worked in the prison administration.

At the local market on a Saturday in November, the vast majority of residents say they have never heard of the Griner case or refuse to talk to the press.

However, a woman in her 50s, with dyed red hair, stops and says: “The law is the same for everyone, the big shots and the common people.”

“If they sent her to jail, it’s because she deserved it. And if she shows good behavior, they’ll release her sooner and she’ll come out with a clear conscience,” adds Svetlana, who declines to give her last name.

The treatment that will be reserved for the athlete is unknown for the moment.

The establishment to which she was sent is “normal”, that is, there are reports of beatings and a work regime “close to slavery”, says Olga Romanova, director of the Rus’ Sidiashchaia Fund, an NGO for the defense of Russian detainees.

“But there are much worse prisons,” says Romanova, an exile in Germany.

In women’s prisons, unlike those for men, “there are no castes or hierarchies,” which is why the detainees lack an internal protection network, she explains.

However, the administration “will watch over it” while there are negotiations on a possible exchange of prisoners, he estimates.

A fragile situation, since “if the negotiations break down, you will be in danger.”

On the other hand, there are three additional factors that expose the athlete to being a victim of violence: “She is lesbian, North American and black,” says the director of the NGO.

In Russian prisons, a very violent homophobia usually prevails, as well as racism and a vision of the United States as the ‘total enemy,'” he details.

“Fortunately [Griner] He doesn’t speak Russian, so he won’t understand what they’re saying” and “that can solve problems for him”, considers Romanova.

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