The detention center just outside Moscow, where Brittney Griner, the American basketball star, is being held, is a former orphanage that was rebuilt ten years ago to house women incarcerated for trial and, separately, women serving their prison terms.
The artificially lit, gray-painted halls and stark high walls fit its bureaucratic name: Correctional Colony No. 1 or IK-1.
Thousands of Russian women passed through it, along with at least one other well-known foreigner: Naama Issachar, the Israeli-American arrested in April 2019 when Russian police said they found a third of an ounce of marijuana in her luggage when she was drinking. connecting to an airport in Moscow.
Ms. Issachar was sentenced to seven and a half years in prison for drug possession and smuggling before President Vladimir V. Putin pardoned her, 10 months after she was first arrested, for becoming a political pawn in the complex Russia-Israel relationship .
In prison, Mrs. Issachar said to her mother: “The clouds in Moscow are beautiful.”
It was all she could see of the outside world.
Now it is Mrs. Griner, also detained for drug possession, who is a pawn — US officials are calling her a Kremlin hostage — but the geopolitics at stake, amid the war in Ukraine and Putin’s confrontation with the West , is far more loaded.
In a telephone interview from Israel, Ms. Issachar’s mother, Yaffa Issachar, said her daughter cried when she heard about Ms. Griner’s case and told her, “I know what she’s going through right now.”
The mother said that Ms. Issachar had been treated relatively well by her cellmates, but that she feared that Ms Griner, as a gay woman, would be treated worse because of Russia’s conservative stance and restrictive laws around homosexuality.
Yaffa Issachar said her daughter had been transferred through three Russian detention centers, including three months in the one where Ms Griner is expected to remain during the duration of her trial, which began on Friday. It is located in the village of Novoye Grishino, an 80-kilometer drive from the center of Moscow.
The Russian authorities have not disclosed the whereabouts of Ms Griner. DailyExpertNews was able to identify the prison from a photo published online by a visitor, and the location was confirmed by a person familiar with the case. Ms. Griner has been held in the facility’s remand center, which also includes a larger penal colony for women serving their sentences, which has its own sewing factory and Russian Orthodox church.
Video footage of the prison available online shows high gray walls, old prison bars and a rusty monument to Lenin in the courtyard. Ms. Issachar, who was allowed to visit her daughter twice a month, also remembers the Lenin monument — along with the noise of barking prison dogs that, she said, were trained in the yard.
For Ms. Griner, every day at the facility looks pretty much the same, said Yekaterina Kalugina, a journalist and member of a public prison surveillance group who visited Ms. Griner in prison.
What you need to know about Brittney Griner’s detention in Russia
The inmates wake up, have breakfast in their cells – usually some basic food – and then go for a walk in the prison courtyard, which is covered with a net. The rest of the day is filled with reading books — Ms Griner has read Dostoevsky in translation, for example — and watching television, although all channels are in Russian, Ms Kalugina said.
The cell has a separate laundry room, she said, something new for Russian prisons. Inmates can order food online and use a refrigerator in the cell for groceries. They are only allowed to shower twice a week.
Ms. Issachar said it would take four hours to complete the paperwork to enter the prison, with all the food she brought with her carefully inspected – down to the tea bags, which had to be cut open, the contents in a plastic bag. .
She could only see her daughter through glass and only talk to her over a phone. She said her daughter had been visited weekly by a rabbi, who would pass letters between them; prison rules allowed the rabbi to be in the same room as the prisoner.
The isolation for her daughter was severe, Ms Ishaffar said. “Mom, the fall started,” she recalls her daughter telling her at one point. “I see the leaves coming down.”
Mrs. Ishaffar suggested that Mrs. Griner’s family find a priest who could visit her.
“There’s someone watching them,” she said, “but at least it’s a human she can talk to.”
Isabel Kershner reporting contributed.