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'You’re starved just by the food': Barbaric conditions await Brittney Griner at Russian penal colony

Without US intervention or a reduced sentence, Brittney Griner, now 32, will remain incarcerated until 2031, when she will be nearly 41
Brittney Griner was moved to a Russian penal colony last week after being imprisoned for carrying marijuana vape cartridges (YouTube/ABC News)
Brittney Griner was moved to a Russian penal colony last week after being imprisoned for carrying marijuana vape cartridges (YouTube/ABC News)

Brittney Griner was transferred to a Russian penal colony last week after being imprisoned for carrying marijuana vape cartridges in her luggage at Moscow's airport earlier this year. Those who know what her new surroundings are like have expressed concern for her well-being.

One of them is Joey Reed, the father of US Marine Trevor Reed, who was reportedly detained in Russia for nearly 1,000 days before being exchanged for a Russian prisoner in the United States. Trevor was arrested in August 2019 and thrown into a Moscow detention center for allegedly assaulting two Moscow police officers. His father has now told of how rotten food, ruthless wardens, and extreme weather conditions await Griner in her penal colony.


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Joey recalled how his son was transferred to a penal colony in Mordovia after receiving a nine-year sentence. Once he was placed there, things only became worse. “You gotta understand, the labor camps in Mordovia, these are pre-Stalin-era prisons, these were literally referred to as gulags,” Joey told the New York Post. “And even though there’s a federal authority for prisons, each warden has wide leeway to do whatever they want until it makes someone angry or leads to bad press.”


Trevor ended up serving nine months of his sentence before he was swapped for Russian pilot Konstantin Yaroshenko, who was convicted in the US of conspiring to smuggle more than $100 million of cocaine into New York. “To a certain extent, you’re starved just by the food that they give you,” Joey explained. “We didn’t show any public photos of my son for about a month and a half because he looked like a concentration camp victim.” He said his son lost about 50 pounds due to the "horrible" food, which consisted primarily of potato soup or some kind of fish, which was typically filled with "crunchy bones." Joey said the grub was so foul that even stray cats in the barracks steered clear of it. “That’s how bad it is,” he insisted. “There was no real health value to the food.”


According to the New York Post, inmates like Griner, who is expected to serve nine years for drug smuggling and possession, are usually sent to extremely secluded regions via van or train on journeys lasting as long as weeks. The prisoners are often denied access to basic necessities like food, water, or bedding during the trips, according to Daniel Balson, Amnesty International USA’s advocacy director for Europe and Central Asia. “They don’t know where they are and they don’t know where they’re going — and often aren’t told until their arrival,” Balson told the Post. “Prisoners are being functionally disappeared for days or weeks in the prison system.”


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Without intervention from the US or a reduced sentence, Griner, now 32, will finish her penal colony stretch in summer 2031, when she will be nearly 41. However, the psychological trauma from the WNBA star's penal detention may affect her for years or even decades later, according to one former American prisoner. “It took me a long time to adjust to normal society,” 83-year-old Marvin Makinen, of Chicago, told The New York Post. “It still affects me," he added.


It is unclear at this time which penal colony Griner will be sent to or if the location will even be made public. The Biden administration has failed to secure the two-time Olympian's release. A potential prisoner swap that could bring Griner home in exchange for notorious Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout seemed likely months ago, but discussions about such an exchange seem to have cooled since.