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Home Action Media Outreach Articles Prisoner Says She Has No Regrets
Prisoner Says She Has No Regrets PDF Print E-mail
from The Bradenton Herald

COLEMAN - When inmate Faith Fippinger rides the sit-down mower in her wide-brimmed straw hat and prison-issue green khaki fatigues, she sings at the top of her lungs.

The whirring of the mower drowns out her voice, and no one can hear.

It's an uplifting release for Fippinger, 63, who has been incarcerated at the minimum security women's prison camp at the federal correctional institution since April 6. Sometimes, she'll throw in a Buddhist chant as she mows the massive, manicured lawns.

Fippinger is serving a 90-day sentence on a trespassing charge in relation to an act of civil disobedience she committed in November at Fort Benning, Ga. She was arrested at the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, where 10,000 demonstrators protested the U.S. government's policies in Latin America.

Sitting in a conference room Wednesday at the prison, Fippinger looked tired, and said she needed a haircut. Her grayish-blond locks appeared windblown.

She said she feels healthy, well-fed and well-cared for.

The retired schoolteacher from Sarasota refers to herself as a prisoner of conscience. But her conscience is free and clear. She has no regrets.

"I have no guilt. It doesn't wear on me," said Fippinger during an interview at the prison.

Fippinger isn't afraid. Or lonely. Or bored.

She has received so many letters - more than 200 - and has had so many visitors (about 10 people from the Sarasota/Manatee area visit each weekend), her fellow inmates wonder if she's a celebrity, like Martha Stewart.

"Rumors fly around here," she said, laughing.

Fippinger became famous after she joined 250 other "human shields" in Iraq in March 2003, when the U.S. invasion began. She volunteered at schools and hospitals near Baghdad until May 2003. She faces possible federal fines and imprisonment for her actions. The case is still pending. A documentary about Fippinger, "Human Shield" by Debra Hussong of Holmes Beach, has been screened nationally.

Prison officials declined to comment on Fippinger. The population at the female camp is 1,936, according to the Federal Bureau of Prisons in Washington.

Varied prison life

The day begins at 5 a.m. in Fippinger's dormitory, when guards do one of several inmate "counts" throughout the day. With about 125 other inmates, she shares a floor of 64 doorless cubicles with metal bunk beds.

Fippinger gets a good night's sleep despite the number of women.

In the morning, she puts on her fatigues and her black steel-toed boots and eats breakfast at the dining hall.

Then she's off to work.

Fippinger chose landscaping so she could be outdoors.

"I have blisters on my hands, but riding the mower will make my arms strong, and, when I get out of here, I will have a powerful tennis serve," she said.

She works from 6:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday, with Fridays and weekends off. She has rest breaks and an hour for lunch.

A vegetarian, Fippinger is surprised that she's been able to maintain her diet.

"The food is plentiful. There's a variety, and it's good," she said.

For her work, she earns 12 cents an hour, which is deposited in an account in her name. Inmates are given debit cards for the commissary, where toiletries and snacks are available.

After work, she puts on tennis shoes and has the option of walking on an outdoor exercise track. She's taken a knitting class, a yoga class and a calligraphy class.

Anti-war protestor

On weekends, Fippinger answers letters, reads and visits with guests. Her brother, John Fippinger of Sarasota, visits often.

"If someone had to go to prison, minimum security at Coleman is the place to be," he said in a phone interview. "Everyone has treated her well."

He plans to pick up his sister July 2 when she's released.

Fippinger is reading "When Heaven and Earth Changed Places: A Vietnamese Woman's Journey from War to Peace" by Le Ly Hayslip. There's a TV room with videos, a library filled with romance novels and a chapel where she can meditate.

Her fellow inmates are nonviolent offenders jailed for drug-related crimes, bank fraud, mail fraud and white-collar crimes. Fippinger cannot disclose details about the inmates.

Hearing daily reports from Iraq increases her opposition to the war, but Fippinger isn't sure if she will risk arrest at a demonstration again.

"I need to go where I can be most effective," she said. "I'd like to go back to Iraq and work with orphans."

The Rev. Dr. Donald Thompson, 68, of Bradenton, a veteran of the civil rights and anti-war demonstrations of the 1960s, said nonviolent protest is an important part of American history.

"What Faith is doing makes sense in light of the recent atrocities in Iraq," he said. "I put her in the category of Mother Teresa. She has such deep feelings about what she is doing."

What will Fippinger do when she is released?

She let out a long sigh, "Ooooh . . ."

"A rest would be nice," she said.

Donna Hartman, features writer, can be reached at 745-7057 or This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .


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