Brittney Griner, the WNBA player who was sentenced to nine years in prison for bringing cannabis oil to Russia, is struggling to cope with the harsh conditions in a Russian penal colony as Moscow signals it will not prioritize the athlete’s release.
Speaking with The New York Times, lawyer Alexandr D. Boykov said the 31-year-old basketball star had initially been expected to sleep in a bed that was far too small for her 6-foot-9 frame before it was replaced with a larger bed at the behest of visiting journalist Ekaterina Kalugina.
Boykov also said Griner is experiencing frequent pain and headaches while in prison, which he describes as a dilapidated building with fluctuating temperatures. Boykov added that Griner is only allowed to take a shower twice per week and walk around a “small courtyard” for an hour each day. All of this, he said, has taken a toll on Griner’s well-being.
“She has not been in as good condition as I could sometimes find her in,” Boykov told The Times, adding that it has been difficult to arrange phone calls between Griner and her family. “She suffers a lot without her family because she hasn’t seen them for so long and it’s very difficult to talk to them in any way.”
Boykov’s assessment echoed those made by Cherelle Griner, Brittney’s wife, who told CBS News that she fears the basketball star may not have the mental fortitude to continue on.
President Joe Biden has been trying to bring Griner back home since she was sentenced on drug charges. However, Yury Ushakov, who serves as an aide to President Vladimir Putin, said Biden is only announcing his attempts to bring home the WNBA basketball star due to the upcoming midterm elections in November.
“In this tense situation, I think that he is thinking first and foremost about the upcoming midterm elections so he keeps emphasizing the need to bring back home the basketball player who was detained for drug smuggling. However, it’s not the main issue that we are concerned about,” Ushakov said on the state-run TV program Rossiya-1, according to translations from state media TASS.
Ushakov’s remark comes about a week after former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Bill Richardson traveled to Russia with the aim of discussing with Kremlin officials the release of Griner and Paul Whelan, a former U.S. Marine who received a 16-year sentence on charges related to espionage. Richardson later suggested that they could be freed by the end of the year.