A 30-year veteran working in the federal prison system, Linda Sanders has lived in every corner of the United States, and now she has a unique perspective as a law-enforcement leader in the Ozarks. Since 2012, she has called Springfield her home as the warden of the U.S. Federal Medical Center for Prisoners.

“It’s like its own city at every level,” she says of the prison with about 1,000 inmates and 650 employees. “And I’m the mayor.”

Sanders oversees an annual budget of $103 million; managing nurses, doctors, administrators, security staff, food service, a dialysis department, welders, plumbers and dietitians. 

Nicknamed the “Fed Med,” Sanders says the west Springfield landmark – once home to convicted gangster John Gotti – is the go-to facility within the federal system for high-security inmates who have long-term illnesses, particularly those in need of dialysis. It is one of six medical centers in the federal prison system. 

“Even though this is my 11th duty stop, it is probably the most unique,” she says.

The Springfield Fed Med serves over 200 dialysis patients – roughly 48 kidneys – making it among the nation’s largest public or private dialysis units. 

Sanders began her career with the federal prison system as a case manager in 1987 at a facility in Sandstone, Minnesota, about 90 miles north of Minneapolis. Her early career went through Petersberg, Virginia; Phoenix and Tucson, Arizona; and Los Angeles. Sanders then went on to become the first female warden at prisons in Forrest City, Arkansas; Ashland, Kentucky; Lompoc, California; and the Fed Med in Springfield. 

Her last stint, as warden for the roughly 4,000-inmate Lompoc, Calif. prison, was right off the Golden Coast north of Santa Barbara. 

“Five years in California and then we moved to Springfield, Missouri,” Sanders says. “It was a little culture shock.”

The family has adjusted well and had an impact on its new home. She’s the mother of Kickapoo High School’s basketball standout Jordan Sanders, who helped the team win a state championship. And the warden’s son, Jalen Sanders, recently accepted a position at Lakeland Regional Hospital after graduating from San Diego State University, she says. 

Last year, Sanders was named Warden of the Year by the Federal Bureau of Prisons’ Agency for Excellence in Prison Management. During her four years in the Ozarks, Sanders says she has been highly impressed with the tight-knit law-enforcement community.

“That’s not something that you see every place,” she says. “It’s really been a great group of people to work with. Every one has been so responsive to any sort of request.”