Brittney Griner Aug 8, 2021; Saitama, Japan; United States centre Brittney Griner (15) reacts to a call against Japan in the women’s basketball gold medal match during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Summer Games at Saitama Super Arena. Mandatory Credit: James Lang-USA TODAY Sports

After the appeal of her nine-year prison sentence was denied last month, Brittney Griner has begun serving her prison sentence in a high-security Russian penal colony after she was convicted on drug charges when she mistakenly brought prescription hashish oil into Russia. She is expected to face harsh treatment and conditions in what is basically legalized slavery, and one former Russian prisoner shared her experience.

Nadya Tolokonnikova, a member of the punk rock band Pussy Riot, served nearly two years in a Russian penal colony after criticizing Russian president Vladimir Putin. And she explained what Brittney Griner is likely going to face during her time in a Russian penal colony.

“In Russian penal colony, you wake up at 6 a.m. and then you work for 16 hours a day,” Tolokonnikova told CNN of the conditions.

Tolokonnikova revealed that it’s not uncommon for prisoners to die as a result of physical labor and poor living conditions.

“The worst thing in penal colony is witnessing deaths of others around you and not being able to do anything,” Tolokonnikova said. “People die from hard physical labor and inability to access medical treatment that they need. But you’re just another prisoner, you can’t do anything about it. You just have to witness this cruelty and know that something like that can happen to you as well.”

Tolokonnikova had one point of advice for Griner: do not lose hope.

“Do not give up on your life,” Tolokonnikova said. “Do not lose belief that there will be life outside of penal colony.”

Russia and the United State are still in negotiations about a potential prisoner swap that could bring her home. While Russia does not view Griner’s release as a priority, the United States is still persistent.