Brittney Griner Faces 16-Hour Work Days in Russian Gulag

November 28, 2022

WNBA star Brittney Griner will face 16-hour work days and possible abuse as she serves her nine-year sentence for drug smuggling in one of Russia's harshest penal colonies, according to TMZ Sports.

After Griner was sentenced in October, Russian officials transferred the athlete to the Mordovia region's IK-2 female penal colony, originally built in the 1930s as part of the Stalin-era gulag system. While the prison has improved since then, it is still characterized by brutality and harsh conditions.

"Prisons in Mordovia are notoriously terrible, even by Russian standards. The prisons there are known for the harsh regimes and human rights violations," Olga Zeveleva, a sociologist at the University of Helsinki who specializes in Russian prison conditions, told the Guardian.

President Joe Biden has promised to continue negotiating a prisoner swap with Russia, offering convicted Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout for Griner and former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan.

"My intention is to get [Griner] home," Biden said a day after the midterm elections. "We’ve had a number of discussions so far, and I’m hopeful that now that our election is over, there’s a willingness to negotiate more specifically with us." Biden has yet to reach an agreement with Russian president Vladimir Putin.

Some analysts hope Griner's high-profile status will shield her from abuse, Zeveleva said, but others fear Russia's war with Ukraine and the United States' support for Ukraine could make life worse for Griner.

"In times of war, the rules might be different. … In any case, she won’t have a pleasant time there," Zeveleva said.