Women’s basketball star Brittney Griner is living a life of privation, according to the brother of an American imprisoned in a Russian jail.
On July 7, the former Olympian and Phoenix Mercury center pleaded guilty to the drug possession and smuggling charges against her.
“I’d like to plead guilty, your honor. But there was no intent. I didn’t want to break the law,” Griner said, according to Reuters. “I’d like to give my testimony later. I need time to prepare.”
She was detained at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport in February after authorities said they found vape canisters with cannabis oil in her luggage. In the hearing , she said she had put the items in there unintentionally because she packed in a hurry.
Her cell likely has “ancient” plumbing, according to USA Today, which interviewed David Whelan, whose brother is being held in Russia. Paul Whelan, who served in the Marine Corps, was accused of being a spy, a charge he denies.
“When they talk about buildings being Stalin-era, they’re not kidding,” David Whelan said.
He said his brother’s first cell had no toilet, only a hole in the ground.
“Prisoners have to maintain the cleanliness of their cell, and so it was at first quite filthy, since the previous occupant had not seemed concerned about cleanliness,” Whelan said. “You are allowed a weekly shower and a daily walk.”
Prisoners such as Griner who have not yet been sentenced usually are allowed one hour of sunlight a day, Whelan said. The other 23 hours are spent in the cell.
As for food, “there’s no interest in nutrition,” Whelan said. He said many prisoners have their food supplemented by food brought in from family members or friends.
He said Russian prisons are run by either gangs or guards, and violence within them is common.
Whelan said his brother’s prison combines prison and labor, a fate that could await Griner.
Elizabeth Rood, the U.S. embassy’s deputy chief of mission in Moscow, met with the WNBA star and gave her a letter from President Joe Biden.
“I’m terrified I might be in here forever,” Griner wrote in a recent letter delivered.
Rood said Griner was “eating well, she’s able to read books and under the circumstances, she’s doing well.”
Victoria Kirby York, deputy executive director of the National Black Justice Coalition, said the current chill in Russian-American relations makes it worse on Griner.
“Brittney is the American that they’re all interfacing with in this system, and that to me is scary,” York said. “That to me is why there needs to be urgency to bring her home.”
In a March 17 report, the Russian state news agency TASS quoted Ekaterina Kalugina of Moscow’s Public Monitoring Commission as saying the 6-foot-9 Griner’s height was an issue because all beds in the prison are bunk beds.
“We saw in the first couple of months of her detainment she had a bed that she couldn’t lay straight in,” York said.
Kalugina told TASS that Griner had started reading Dostoevsky and a biography on members of the Rolling Stones.
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