Russia sends Brittney Griner to a penal colony

MOSCOW — U.S. basketball star Brittney Griner has arrived in a prison colony in the Russian republic of Mordovia — 300 miles southeast of Moscow — to begin serving out a nine-year sentence on drug charges, her lawyers say.

The announcement by Griner’s legal team Thursday was the first confirmation of the American’s whereabouts since Russian authorities transferred her from a Moscow detention center nearly two weeks ago — a period of time typical for Russia’s opaque prison transfer system.

Griner’s attorneys Maria Blagovolina and Alexander Boykov confirmed they had visited Griner at the IK-2 women’s prison colony in the town of Yavas earlier this week.

“Brittney is doing as well as could be expected and trying to stay strong as she adapts to a new environment,” said the lawyers in a statement released to the media.

“Considering this is a very challenging period for her, there will be no no further comments from us.”

Last August, Griner was sentenced by a Russian court to nine years in a prison colony for carrying less than a gram of hash oil into Russia when she arrived for play in the Russian women’s professional basketball league earlier this year.

In court, Griner admitted to mistakenly packing two vape cartridges in her rush to pack her luggage — but provided documents that showed the hash oil was legally prescribed by her U.S. doctor for pain management.

The U.S. government has labeled Griner “wrongfully detained” and continues to seek a prisoner swap with Russia involving Griner and another jailed American, former Marine Paul Whelan.

Whelan is serving out a 16-year sentence for espionage at separate prison colony in Mordovia.

Former inmates tell NPR that Russia’s prison colonies are known for primative conditions and punishing work regimens rooted in the Soviet Union’s gulag prison system.

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