WNBA Star Released from Russian Prison


Terry Holman, Editor-In-Chief

Back in June, the ECHO Newspaper covered WNBA star, Brittney Griner. Back in February, she was detained in Russia after security found vape pens with a small amount of cannabis oil in her luggage at the airport. Something to state, her detainment was around the time of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. This seems to be why the US government has been quiet about it, but as time passed without a word, they stated she was “wrongfully detained.” An uprising started with many WNBA and NBA players supporting her. 

Time Line
Griner was sentenced to nine years in prison for her drug charges. Though she was detained on February 17th, it wasn’t until March 23rd that she was able to meet with US officials. Russia stated that she would be detained for at least until May when the case would be resolved. Russia was trying to prevent US officials from gaining access to Griner and two other detained Americans despite international laws. 

There wasn’t much hope until April 27th when Marine Trevor Reed was released in exchange for Russian national Konstantin Yaroshenko who was serving a 20-year prison sentence for smuggling drugs. On May 3rd, the US officially declared Griner as “wrongfully detained.” On May 13th, the pretrial detention was extended another 30 days. Russian state media says Griner might be traded for a convicted Russian arms dealer. This trade was supposed to be Griner for Viktor Bout. He was serving a 25-year sentence for financing terrorism. 

In early June, the US government secretly offered Bout for Griner and Paul Wheln, another American who has been detained since December 2018. By June 20th, Cherelle Griner, her wife, states she has “zero trust in our government” after many of Griner’s calls went unanswered for “logistical errors,” one of which is the call center being unstaffed. 

Finally, on July 1st, the trial begins. The trial would be adjourned on July 7th. She was facing drug smuggling charges. During the trial, Griner plead guilty, though she stated it was an accident and she did not intend to break the law. On July 27th, the US begins negotiations and on July 28th, Russia requests it is kept quiet. August 4th, she was found guilty and sentenced to 9 years. 

On November 9th, Griner was moved to a Russian Penal colony in Mordovia. The US states that Russia has not been actively involved in negotiations. 

On December 8th, a trade between Bout and Griner was made, leaving When detained. 

The Prison

Brittney Griner was placed in the penal colony Mordovia. This is one of the worst places to be detained. The conditions were brutal, even to Russian standards. “Prisons in Mordovia are notoriously terrible, even by Russian standards. The prisons there are known for the harsh regimes and human rights violations,” said Olga Zeveleva, a sociologist at the University of Helsinki who specializes in Russian prison conditions, according to The Guardian. Built-in the early 1930s, in the Stalin Era, the prisons make up one of the largest penal colonies in Europe. 

There were no personal belongings or personal space. There were typically 100 other women in the bunking space. Prisoners first go to the IK-2 colony and are detained there for 2 weeks for a “quarantine block.” Everything was also in Russian, making it hard for anyone who doesn’t speak it to even learn the rules. 

After the quarantine, the days start at 6 am with a morning call, This is followed by group exercises. Then the rest of the day is typically labor between 10 and 12 hours sitting at a sewing machine. Making uniforms for prison service and the Russian army, human rights are violated. Though violence in the women’s ward is a little less than in the men’s, there are still high levels of abuse from the guards.