UPDATED: 10:55 a.m. ET, Dec. 9 with details about why Griner’s hair was cut.
Originally published on Dec. 8
New video footage of Brittney Griner shows the prisoner swap taking place in exchange for international arms dealer Viktor Bout after American diplomats negotiated the professional basketball star’s release.
Noticeably missing from Griner was her signature crown of lengthy locs, prompting speculation about both why and by whom her hair was cut. TMZ released the video that has since gone viral showing Griner and Bout accompanied by Russian and American officials during the prisoner swap on Thursday. It appears to have taken place on an airport tarmac.
Other photos posted to social media purport to show Griner after being released from Russian custody. Those photos show Griner with a short-cropped haircut.
Griner was shown as recently as late October with her locs intact. That was when she was sentenced to nine years in a Russian prison following a questionable guilty verdict for smuggling drugs. No new photos of Griner had been made public since then, making her appearance without her signature locs all the more shocking.
According to the Ukraine news website Ukranska Pravda, some Russian prisons have codes of conduct that extend to prisoners’ hair. “The Russians keep Ukrainian women on an equal footing with men, that is, in cramped cells and with no hygiene products,” Ukranska Pravda wrote in a report published in late September. “Some are not allowed to comb their hair or forced to cut it altogether.”
However, ESPN reported on Friday that it was Griner who actually decided to cut her own hair off. The lawyer who represented Griner during her trial in Russia said the eastern European country’s cold climate factored into the decision.
“It’s very cold in there and every time she washed her hair she got cold and would get a chill,” Maria Blagovolina told ESPN. “She should have waited until New Year’s Day.”
Prior to Thursday’s surprise announcement, Griner had begun serving a prison sentence in Mordovia, which is known as Russia’s “land of prisons.” Russia’s penal colony in Mordovia is infamous for its harsh and horrific conditions.
According to The Nation’s Dave Zirin, the colony is notorious for racism and homophobia towards inmates, and Griner’s time there could be brutal. Musician and activist, Nadya Tolokonnikova spent two years in Mordovia. During an interview with MSNBC, her description of the camp was horrific. “Beatings and torture are common,” she said.
Inmates also were required to sew police army and guard uniforms and were hardly given medical care. Some international observers even questioned if Griner would get a bed that can fit her six-foot-eight-inch frame.
The jailed basketball star was transferred to a Russian penal colony about 300 miles southeast of Moscow. According to her lawyers, she was then moved to Female Penal Colony IK-2 in the town of Yavas.
Griner’s horrific ordeal lasted about nine months.
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