The detention center outside Moscow where American basketball star Brittney Griner has been held is a former orphanage rebuilt a decade ago to house women incarcerated before trial and, separately, women serving their prison sentences.
Its gray-painted, artificially lit corridors and somber high walls correspond to its bureaucratic name: Correctional Colony No. 1, or IK-1.
Thousands of Russian women have passed through it, along with at least one other foreign acquaintance: 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 as she was hooking up on a Moscow airport.
Ms. Issachar was sentenced to seven and a half years in prison on drug possession and smuggling charges before she was pardoned by President Vladimir V. Putin, 10 months after she was first arrested, as she became a political pawn in the complex relationship between Russia and Israel. .
In prison, Mrs. Issachar told her mother: “The clouds in Moscow are beautiful.”
It was all he could see of the outside world.
Now it is Griner, also being held on drug charges, who is a pawn (US officials call her a Kremlin hostage), but the geopolitics at stake, amid the war in Ukraine and Putin’s standoff with the West, are far away. 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 that Ms. Issachar had been treated relatively well by her cellmates, but that she feared that Ms. Griner, as a gay woman, might be treated worse because of Russia’s conservative attitudes and restrictive laws surrounding the homosexuality.
Yaffa Issachar said her daughter had been transferred to three Russian detention centers, including three months in one where Griner is expected to stay for the duration of her trial, which began on Friday. It is in the village of Novoye Grishino, a 50-mile drive from the center of Moscow.
The Russian authorities have not revealed the whereabouts of Ms. Griner. The New York Times was able to identify the prison from a photo posted online by a visitor, and a person familiar with the case confirmed the location. Ms. Griner has been held in the center’s remand facility, which also includes a larger penal colony for women serving their sentences, with its own sewing factory and a Russian Orthodox church.
video images of the prison available online shows tall, gray walls, old prison bars, and a rusty monument to Lenin in the yard. Ms. Issachar, who was allowed to visit her daughter twice a month, also remembers the Lenin monument, along with the din of barking prison dogs that she said were being trained in the backyard.
For Ms. Griner, every day in the facility is pretty much the same, said Yekaterina Kalugina, a journalist and member of a public prison monitoring group who has visited Ms. Griner in prison.
What you need to know about Brittney Griner’s detention in Russia
Inmates wake up, have breakfast in their cell — usually some basic food — and then go for a walk in the prison yard, which is covered by a net. The rest of the day is spent reading books (for example, Griner has been reading Dostoyevsky in translation) and watching TV, although all the channels are in Russian, Kalugina said.
The cell has a separate private bathroom, he said, something of a first for Russian prisons. Inmates can order food online and use an in-cell refrigerator to purchase food. 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 in thoroughly inspected, down to the tea bags, which had to be opened, their contents emptied into a plastic bag.
He could see his daughter only through glass and talk to her only through a phone. She said that her daughter had been allowed weekly visits from a rabbi, who passed letters between them; under prison regulations, the rabbi was allowed to be in the same room as the inmate.
His daughter’s isolation was severe, Ishaffar said. “Mommy, the fall began,” he recalled his daughter telling him at one point. “I see the leaves fall.”
Mrs. Ishaffar suggested that Mrs. Griner’s family find a priest who could visit her.
“There’s someone watching them,” he said, “but at least it’s a human he can talk to.”
Elizabeth Kershner contributed report.