Brittney Griner Oct 13, 2021; Phoenix, Arizona, USA; Phoenix Mercury center Brittney Griner (42) shoots against the Chicago Sky during the first half of game two of the 2021 WNBA Finals at Footprint Center. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

WNBA star Brittney Griner’s appeal of her nine-year prison sentence was denied last month after she was convicted on drug charges after mistakenly bringing prescription hashish oil into Russia. Now, the WNBA superstar is en route to a Russian penal colony where she is expected to face harsh treatment and conditions.

The details surrounding where she’s exactly going are unclear as prisoner transfers can take several weeks and Russian authorities are only required to reveal a prisoner’s whereabouts once they’ve arrived. Regardless of where she goes, however, she can expect some pretty terrible and inhumane conditions.

“If jail is possible to imagine, then a penal colony, you can only imagine reading dissidents’ books,” says Maria Alyokhina, a member of the feminist punk collective Pussy Riot who spent almost two years in a penal colony.

Alyokhina spoke with NPR about what kind of conditions Griner can expect, it might not be as bad as how Russian camps used to be, but it’s still pretty egregious.

“Of course, it has a bit better conditions than [the] original gulag system from the 1950s,” says Alyokhina. “But the sense is the same. It is a labor camp.”

Alyokhina went as far as to say that Russian prisoners are essentially slaves, being forced to work without any pay or control over their lives.

“This is a really terrible institution which we received from [the] Soviet Union and it’s totally inhuman. The cynical thing is, the work the state provides to the prisoners is sewing uniforms for Russian police and the Russian army,” she says. “This is a legal slavery system. There’s nothing about correction or improvement of people’s behavior.”

As far as what Americans can do while waiting for the State Department to find a solution with their Russian counterparts in getting Griner home, she suggests continuing to reach out and make sure Griner knows she is cared about.

“Write letters. Connect with her lawyers. Ask questions about her inside the system. Do not leave her alone,” she says. “This is what the prisoner administration is telling political prisoners. That they will be forgotten and nobody cares about them.”


About Sean Keeley

Along with writing for Awful Announcing and The Comeback, Sean is the Editorial Strategy Director for Comeback Media. Previously, he created the Syracuse blog Troy Nunes Is An Absolute Magician and wrote 'How To Grow An Orange: The Right Way to Brainwash Your Child Into Rooting for Syracuse.' He has also written non-Syracuse-related things for SB Nation, Curbed, and other outlets. He currently lives in Seattle where he is complaining about bagels. Send tips/comments/complaints to