Britney Greiner fears facing inhumane treatment in Russia’s penal colonies, where abuse, disease and forced labor are rampant.

Britney Greiner.

Britney Greiner was escorted from the courtroom after her Russian trial.Evgenia Novozinina / PAUL / Reuters

  • WNBA star Britney Grenier Convicted of drug smuggling He was sentenced to nine years in prison in Russia after customs officers found e-cigarette cartridges containing cannabis oil in her bags in February.

  • greener appeal she has rejectedand if it is not included in the file Prisoner exchange between the United States and Russia Soon, the WNBA All-Star will have to serve their sentence in a penal colony.

  • As her detention continued, Grenier grew increasingly afraid of the “miserable or inhumane conditions” she would face, Her attorney told the New York Times.

  • Here’s what we know about Russia’s criminal colonies and what Greiner’s experiment might look like.

Britney Greiner is one of the most accomplished basketball players on the planet.

Britney Greiner.

Photograph: Brian Snyder/Reuters

The 6-foot-9 Grenier star of the Phoenix Mercury is an eight-time WNBA All-Star, two-time record champion, two-time Defensive Player of the Year, and WNBA Champion.

Britney Greiner.

AP Photo / Rick Scuteri

She also won two Olympic gold medals with Team USA.

Britney Greiner.

Britney Greiner.AP Photo / Eric Jay

When she’s not competing in the WNBA or on Team USA, Griner takes her talents abroad to supplement her income.

Britney Grenier and UMMC Ekaterinburg celebrate their Euroleague victory.

Photograph: Murat Sezer/Reuters

How low WNBA salaries led to the arrest of an American basketball star in Russia

Every year since 2014—the second time I’ve graduated from college—Greiner has traveled to Russia to compete for European powerhouse UMMC Ekaterinburg.

Griner (right) competes with Russia's UMMC Ekaterinburg during the WNBA offseason.

BSR Agency / Getty Images

Russia’s Britney Grenier – owned by an oligarch allied with Putin – is a hotspot for WNBA stars

The 2021-22 WNBA season was no exception; Greiner was on her way to Yekaterinburg, in the Urals, in February when she was stopped at a Moscow airport.

Britney Greiner.

Photograph: Evgenia Novozinina/Reuters

Russian customs officers found vape cartridges containing cannabis oil in the luggage of the WNBA star and subsequently detained them.

Britney Greiner.

Dmitriy Serebryakov / AP Photo

Nearly six months later, Grenier was convicted of drug smuggling with “criminal intent” and sentenced to nine years in prison in Russia.

Britney Greiner

Greiner.AP Photo / Alexander Zemlianichenko

Britney Greiner has been sentenced to 9 years in prison in Russia after being found guilty of drug charges

Her legal team later appealed the decision, but the move was never expected to result in her release or even a commutation of her sentence.

Britney Greiner.

Evgenia Novozinina / PAUL / Reuters

Britney Greiner has appealed her 9-year sentence in Russia, but the move is unlikely to free the WNBA star

In late October, her appeal was officially rejected.

Britney Greiner.

Britney Greiner.Kirill Kudryavtsev/Paul via Reuters

Britney Greiner has lost her appeal and will now begin a 9-year prison sentence in one of Russia’s notorious penal colonies.

Unless she is released in a US-Russia prisoner exchange, Greiner will almost certainly spend time in a Russian criminal colony.

Britney Greiner.

Kirill Kudryavtsev/Paul via Reuters

Brittney Greiner’s freedom could hinge on an unorthodox prisoner exchange involving a former US Marine and a notorious Russian arms dealer.

Russian penal colonies are prisoner labor camps and are essentially the remnants of the notorious gulag regime in the Soviet Union.

Russian penal colony.

Photograph: Ilya Nemushin/Reuters

Greiner would likely report to one of the 35 or so all-women penal colonies in the country.

Britney Greiner


source: People

Each facility’s reputation and treatment of guests varies based on its geographic location and leadership structure.

Russian women's prison.

Associated Press / Yuri Totov

Some, like Prison Colony No. 14 in Mordovia, are known for their brutality.

Russian penal colony in Moldova.

Maxim Marmore/AFP via Getty Images

The prisoners there are said to live among mice, losing their fingers while working 17 hours in sewing machines, and forced to watch guards burn cats alive.

Russian prisoners working on sewing machines.


source: Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

While the other facilities are not known to be completely cruel, there are many annoying commonalities across the penal system.

Russian penal colony.

Photograph: Tatyana Makeeva/Reuters

Dilapidated infrastructure is known to limit access to running water and heating, especially in remote locations.

Russian penal colony.

AP Photo / Laura Mills

source: Center for Oriental Studies

Inmates’ personal hygiene is often neglected as a result.

A Russian prisoner washes her hands with water from a vase.

Photograph: Ilya Nemushin/Reuters

The colonies are very overcrowded, with most prisoners living in close quarters with about 50 other people.

Russian penal colony barracks.

Associated Press / Yuri Totov

source: People

Russian law requires each guest to have 20 square feet of personal space, but this standard – which is below the requirements of the European Convention on Human Rights – is often not met in Russian facilities.

Russian prison barracks.


source: Center for Oriental Studies

Between the proximity of prisoners to each other and the lack of basic hygiene, penal colonies in Russia are known as incubators of epidemics.

Russian penal colony.

Associated Press / Yuri Totov

AIDS, tuberculosis, COVID-19 and other diseases are spreading.

An inmate is being evaluated in a Russian prison hospital.

Russian Federal Prison Service via AP

source: Center for Oriental StudiesAnd the mystery

And women in the system are often denied medical care altogether – not to mention adequate medical care.

Patients in a Russian hospital.

AP Photo / Vitaly Timkev

source: mystery

Despite criticism that the system resembled Josef Stalin’s Jules, the Russian government reinstated forced labor in 2016.

Forced labor in a Russian penal colony.

Photograph: Ilya Nemushin/Reuters

source: VOA News

Most women cook, clean, or sew to fulfill this requirement.

The prison cook prepares the food.

Vannessa Jimenez / Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Ex-prisoners in all Russian penal colonies have said that “voluntary” overtime is in fact mandatory, with guards threatening retaliation if they do not sign off on overtime.

Forced labor in a Russian concentration camp.

Photograph: Ilya Nemushin/Reuters

source: mystery

As a result, some women are forced to work 16 or 17 hours a day, with only four hours of sleep each night.

Russian prisoners work in the cultivation of cabbage.

Photograph: Ilya Nemushin/Reuters

source: mystery

Torture is unheard of in these facilities.

Keeper of the Russian penal colony.

Photograph: Maxim Shemetov/Reuters

source: Center for Oriental Studies

And when it comes to abuse, “even official statistics indicate that it is widely practiced,” according to a comment from the Center for Oriental Studies.

Russian penal colony.

Photograph: Ilya Nemushin/Reuters

But Griner will likely go through a less terrifying experience – that is, if she ends up going to a penal colony at all.

Britney Greiner.

Dmitriy Serebryakov / AP Photo

If Grenier was “sent to a colony with a lenient governor” — as Ivan Melnikov, deputy head of the Russian division at the International Commission for the Defense of Human Rights, told People — she might be allowed to “train basketball in the day rather than be a seamstress.”

Britney Greiner (left) shoots over fellow WNBA All-Star A'ja Wilson.

Britney Greiner (left) shoots over fellow WNBA All-Star A’ja Wilson.AP Photo / Rick Scuteri

source: People

People also reported that such a move was not unprecedented, since Russian footballers Alexander Kokorin and Pavel Mamaev trained prisoners during their sentence in the colony.

Russian football players Alexander Kokorin and Pavel Mamaev.

Mike Kirev/NoorPhoto via Getty Images

source: People

Melnikov also told People magazine that inmates usually receive “a half hour to two hours a day” for leisure, where they can “chat each other, read a book from the library, write letters home, exercise, play board games, and call friends and family.” .

Britney (left) and Sheryl Greiner.

Britney (left) and Sheryl Greiner.Douglas P. Devils/Getty Images

source: People

But even considering Greiner’s chance of relative normalcy within the penal colony, her experience there would undoubtedly be difficult.

Britney Greiner.

Photograph: Evgenia Novozinina/Reuters

As her detention continued, her lawyer told the New York Times, her fear grew of the “miserable or inhumane conditions” she could face.

Britney Greiner.

AP Photo / Alexander Zemlianichenko

source: New York times

Greiner’s wife, Cheryl, has publicly expressed her concerns about her seemingly deteriorating mental health after they exchanged a very “disturbing conversation” over the phone.

Cheryl Greiner.

David Banks USA Today Sports

source: CBS News

But unfortunately, all Cheryl, the Greiner family, and those who support the star can do now is hope that the prisoner exchange between the US and Russia will pay off.

Britney Greiner.


The Biden administration reportedly offered a convicted arms smuggler in exchange for the release of Britney Greiner and another American held in Russia.

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