Brittney Griner Faces 'Psychological Warfare' in Russian Penal Colony, Says Former Prisoner Sarah Krivanek

Sarah Krivanek, Brittney Griner
Sarah Krivanek, Brittney Griner

Facebook; KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV/AFP via Getty Sarah Krivanek and Brittney Griner, two Americans jailed in Russia

Sarah Krivanek, an American woman who was released from a Russian penal colony on Nov. 7, is sharing frightening new details about the conditions Brittney Griner will face while serving her nine-year sentence.

"I've brutally deteriorated after one year," Krivanek tells PEOPLE, "and she's facing nine," she says of the imprisoned WNBA star.

Krivanek, who is now in a holding cell as she awaits her flight back to the U.S., says she's "afraid for" Griner's mental and physical well-being in the penal colony after experiencing the harsh conditions firsthand.

"It will be hard," says Krivanek, who points out that Griner will face additional prejudice for her identity. "She looks different, she sounds different, she's a woman of color which is very unusual and she's a lesbian."

Additionally, 6-foot-9 Griner's height "will be a problem" and "the administration won't accommodate her," says Krivanek. "Her family will have to arrange and pay for beds and all that."

RELATED: Brittney Griner's Lawyers 'Disappointed' in Russian Court's Decision to Uphold 9-Year Prison Sentence

Griner is in an all-female colony, which Krivanek describes as "remote" and occupied by "all sorts" of prisoners — "most of them bad."

Brittney Griner enters a defendants' cage before a hearing at the Khimki Court in the town of Khimki outside Moscow on July 15, 2022
Brittney Griner enters a defendants' cage before a hearing at the Khimki Court in the town of Khimki outside Moscow on July 15, 2022

NATALIA KOLESNIKOVA/AFP via Getty Images

In addition to navigating her unpredictable fellow inmates, Krivanek expects Griner will have "more challenges and obstacles" due to her sexual orientation. "She's going to have to earn her respect," Krivanek says.

RELATED: Cherelle Griner Asks People to Write Letters to Wife Brittney in Russia: 'She Is 100% Not OK'

According to Krivanek, "Status in there doesn't come from fame and fortune." Instead, "It's who is the meanest and toughest."

Krivanek doesn't expect the other inmates to be familiar with Griner's background as a professional athlete, but thinks that may be for the best. "There's going to be a lot of girls who don't give a crap who she is. If they have heard of her — which is unlikely — it might go against her with jealousy and envy. She'll have to learn when to stay low-key and when to raise her voice."

"It's psychological warfare in there," says Krivanek.

US basketball player Brittney Griner (R) is escorted by police before a hearing during her trial on charges of drug smuggling, in Khimki, outside Moscow on August 2, 2022. - Griner was detained at Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport in February 2022 just days before Moscow launched its offensive in Ukraine. She was charged with drug smuggling for possessing vape cartridges with cannabis oil. Speaking at the trial on July 27, Griner said she still did not know how the cartridges ended up in her bag.
US basketball player Brittney Griner (R) is escorted by police before a hearing during her trial on charges of drug smuggling, in Khimki, outside Moscow on August 2, 2022. - Griner was detained at Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport in February 2022 just days before Moscow launched its offensive in Ukraine. She was charged with drug smuggling for possessing vape cartridges with cannabis oil. Speaking at the trial on July 27, Griner said she still did not know how the cartridges ended up in her bag.

NATALIA KOLESNIKOVA/AFP via Getty Brittney Griner

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Griner has been detained in Russia since February, so Krivanek believes "she may speak some Russian by now."

Unfortunately, the Russian words and phrases she may have picked up likely won't be helpful in the colony. "There's a whole prison language. My Russian is good but I was mind-boggled at all the new jargon," says Krivanek.

Griner and Krivanek have never met, but Krivanek was sent to the WNBA star's block at one point during their detainment in a detention center.

"One of the girls in my detention block in Moscow had been with Brittney in hers and said 'Whoa, there are two American women in jail?' All she said about her was that she was really tall and couldn't speak Russian so she'd been put in a cell with a girl that knew English. I was sent to Brittney's block and hoped to run into her but we didn't cross paths."

RELATED VIDEO: Brittney Griner's Wife Cherelle Speaks Out on WNBA Star's 9-Year Sentence: 'It Terrifies Me'

Krivanek has, though, sent Griner an email through the prison's messaging system to offer her support and "love."

"I'm by your side Brittney," she wrote in the email, she tells PEOPLE. "Do not give up!  No one will leave you behind."

Krivanek's concern for Griner's ability to manage the physical and mental pressures of the colony is calmed somewhat by her knowledge of the athlete's outside support system.

"The plus for Brittney is that she has a support system, she has lawyers, letters, supply packages, embassy visits and family sending her money to buy things from the shop. But most importantly when the other inmates see this, they'll back off," says Krivanek.

RELATED: Brittney Griner's Wife Cherelle Says the WNBA Star Is 'At Her Absolute Weakest' Right Now in Russia

Additionally, the display of support from Griner's friends and family "will keep the prison administration from wanting to screw up because if something happens to her, they are responsible."

The U.S. State Department's support is another benefit for Griner, says Krivanek. "That'll give her protection."