The detention center just outside Moscow where American basketball star Brittney Griner was held is a former orphanage rebuilt a decade ago to house women imprisoned before trial and, separately, women serving their prison sentence.
Its artificially lit gray-painted hallways and tall, eerie walls match its bureaucratic name: Correctional Colony No. 1, or IK-1.
Thousands of Russian women have been there, as well as at least one other well-known foreigner: Naama Issacarthe Israeli-American arrested in April 2019 when Russian police said they found a third of an ounce of marijuana in her luggage as she checked into a Moscow airport.
Ms Issachar was sentenced to seven and a half years in prison for drug possession and drug trafficking before President Vladimir V. Putin pardoned her10 months after her first arrest, as she became a political pawn in the complex relationship between Russia and Israel.
In prison, Ms Issachar told her mother: “The clouds in Moscow are pretty.
It was all she could see of the outside world.
Now it is Ms Griner, also detained on drug charges, who is a pawn – US officials are calling her a Kremlin hostage – but geopolitics are at stake, amid the war in Ukraine and the confrontation of M Putin 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, telling her: “I know what she is going through now.
The mother said Ms Issachar had been treated relatively well by her cellmates, but she feared that Ms Griner, as a gay woman, would be treated less well due to Russia’s conservative attitudes and restrictive laws surrounding homosexuality.
Yaffa Issachar said her daughter had been transferred to three Russian detention centres, including three months in the one where Ms Griner is expected to remain throughout her trial, which began on Friday. It is located in the village of Novoye Grishino, 80 km from the center of Moscow.
Russian authorities have not revealed Ms Griner’s whereabouts. The New York Times was able to identify the prison from a photograph posted online by a visitor, and the location was confirmed by a person familiar with the matter. Ms Griner was held in the facility’s remand center, which also includes a larger penal colony for women serving sentences, with its own sewing factory and a Russian Orthodox church.
Video footage of the prison available online shows tall gray walls, old prison bars and a rusting monument to Lenin in the courtyard. Ms Issachar, who was allowed to visit her daughter twice a month, also remembers the Lenin monument – as well as the din of barking prison dogs which she said were being trained in the yard.
For Ms Griner, every day at the facility is pretty much the same, said Yekaterina Kalugina, a journalist and member of a public prison watchdog group who visited Ms Griner in the prison.
What to know about Brittney Griner’s detention in Russia
Inmates wake up, eat breakfast in their cell — usually basic food — and then walk around the prison yard, which is covered with netting. The rest of the day is spent reading books — Ms Griner read Dostoevsky in translation, for example — and watching TV, though all the channels are in Russian, Ms Kalugina said.
The cell has a separate private bathroom, she said, something new for Russian prisons. Inmates can order food online and use an in-cell refrigerator for shopping. They are only allowed to shower twice a week.
Ms Issachar said it would take up to four hours to complete the paperwork to enter the prison, with all the food she brought meticulously inspected – right down to tea bags, which had to be opened, their contents emptied into a plastic bag.
She could only see her daughter through glass and only talk to her on the phone. She said her daughter had been allowed weekly visits from a rabbi, who exchanged letters with each other; under prison rules, the rabbi was allowed to be in the same room as the inmate.
Her daughter’s isolation was severe, Ms Ishaffar said. “Mom, the fall has begun,” she recalled her daughter telling her at one point. “I see the leaves falling.”
Ms Ishaffar suggested that Ms 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.”
Isabelle Kershner contributed report.