The exchange between Russia and the United States of America of Brittney Griner for a convicted arms dealer promotes multiple postulations among them the legitimacy of the initial accusations, the penalties for violation of national law, the justice of the trial processes, the reasonableness of the convictions and the indisputable nightmare that is prison.
In February 2022, Griner was detained by Russian customs after cartridges containing hashish oil were found in her luggage, and later arrested on smuggling charges. She had been entering Russia to play with the Russian Premier League during the WNBA off season. Her trial began on July 1, and she pleaded guilty to the charges. On August 4, she was sentenced to nine years in prison. In November 2022, Griner was transferred to the Russian penal colony IK-2. During this time, US officials had stated that she was “wrongfully detained.” Griner’s family is part of the Bring Our Families Home campaign that advocates for the immediate release of wrongfully-held detainees. On December 8, Griner was released by Russia in a contentious 1-for-1 prisoner swap for arms dealer Viktor Bout, who was serving a 25 year sentence for providing heavy weapons to terrorists and conspiring to killing Americans.
Prisons in Mordovia are regarded by many as having conditions harsher than most Russian prisons. According to University of Helsinki sociologist Olga Zeveleva, who works with the Gulag Echoes project studying Russian prison conditions, “Prisons in Mordovia are notoriously terrible, even by Russian standards. The prisons there are known for the harsh regimes and human rights violations.” According to The Guardian, a popular saying among female prison inmates in Russia is “If you haven’t done time in Mordovia, you haven’t done time at all.”
It has been said (and rightfully so in my opinion) that the measure of a nation’s social advancement is its treatment of prisoners. In other words, prisons are the weakest link in the communal chain.
Few of us have had the experience of incarceration. It is confinement upon the rule of others. Both prisoners and gaolers have bipolar reputations. In some instances we are led to believe that the detention is similar to a golf club where the prisoners enjoy conditions approaching luxury resorts. This however is not the norm. More common is an image of torture (such as prolonged solitary confinement) or mistreatment by others.
One has to wonder what is the lingering fallout of incarceration. The detainee must be left with a critical view of the world, perhaps focussed upon one nation alone or maybe applicable to humanity in general. How we treat others with whom we disagree from a position of power is the point. Certainly there are those affected by the behaviour of the prisoner who have little pity for the treatment of incarceration or the penalty that follows. Revenge however is a terrible ambition.
“People who are more vengeful tend to be those who are motivated by power, by authority and by the desire for status. They don’t want to lose face.“
“Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves.”
How we instruct our children to behave in society is as poignant as how we treat adults who have violated those prescriptions. Often the regulations and controls are synonymous, reflecting similarity of understanding, applicability and purpose. The latter is especially relevant because it addresses any underlying urgency or possible necessity. A poor child for example may steal for food. Being in a position of power doesn’t excuse a revengeful violence of punishment.
When people are used as pawns in the political process (whether internally or externally) the process is even more distasteful and incrementally reflects upon the states and parties involved. Toying with people’s lives is no more than feeding meat to the dogs.
The unfortunate problem with being ruled by people with power and money is that they’re always afraid of losing either or both; and, like the dogs being fed the meat, they will do anything to preserve their entitlement including distortion of truth.
There is a reason we withstand the isolation of prisoners and prisons. Seldom is the purpose strictly safety or even cosmetic. Most prisoners lead productive lives by sewing, carpentry, road maintenance or gardening. The system is smart enough to understand the foible of idle hands. But paramountly prisoners are isolated to disguise our collective shame. Why not put children in chains for misbehaviour? And does parading the unfortunates of society in public chain gangs do anything to improve humanity and the wretches within our scope? Would any of us trade places with those on the wrong side of life? If it is so easy to stay on the right side of everything then surely we must lead by example, not descend to the pits for a ruthless combat of evil-minded distinction.
And if one were compelled by some obtuse logic to attack my words as Namby Pamby or flavourless liberalism, I then invite you to consider your own verdict of behaviour at the instance of others. Eliminating the enemy is accomplished not from without but from within; if we tend to ourselves we may thereafter tend to one another for our mutual advantage. Swapping prisoners is hardly a success. It is revenge by another name and merely illustrative of the global power game by those who control the money.