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‘Fed Med’ warden to retire

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U.S. Medical Center for Federal Prisoners Warden Linda Sanders plans to retire next month after 30 years working in the federal prison system.

Sanders, who started off as a correctional officer, moved up through 11 tours in the system, including gigs as warden of the Federal Correctional Complex in Lompoc, California, and case management coordinator at Metropolitan Detention Center in Los Angeles. She joined the local institution nicknamed “Fed Med” in 2012. There, she leads 600 employees with a $103 million budget, overseeing 1,000 prisoners who come to the Queen City for medical treatment.

This morning, Sanders said she plans to retire in August amid budgetary issues within the federal prison system.

“We don’t have a budget. We’re running on a continuing resolution,” she said, speaking as the July guest for Springfield Business Journal’s 12 People You Need to Know live interview series. “The budget proposal has some interesting changes to our federal retirement.

“For me, depending on what passes, I could lose a couple hundred dollars a year or almost $20,000 a year, so I’m leaving.”

Sanders, who’s in her mid-50s, said she has plans to volunteer at the Springfield Dream Center upon retirement. Specifically, she wants to work with Springfield basketball coach Chris Johnson — a staff member at The Fieldhouse Sportscenter — helping teens preparing to play sports in college become academically compliant.

“A lot of these kids, especially from homes where their parents have never been to college, they don’t understand the importance of getting those good grades,” Sanders said. “I want to work with the local kids in that area — nothing with inmates.”

Prior to her retirement announcement, Sanders gave an inside look into the 84-year-old prison.

“It does function as a little city,” she said. “We are self-sufficient.”

While inmates are escorted to Mercy Hospital Springfield for more complicated procedures, most are treated on-site. The prison serves over 200 dialysis patients, making the Fed Med one of the largest public or private dialysis units. Sanders also leads a staff including guards, nurses and mental health professionals — of the 1,000 prisoners, 350 to 400 are there for mental health issues.

Inmates are screened and examined thoroughly to keep staff up to date on any changes that might be going on with them. If an inmate on medication gains too much weight, they might suffer a psychotic break because the drugs stop being as effective, for instance.

“When he goes off, he kills people,” Sanders said. “Our safety depends on our ability to notice the little things.”

Staff members also must manage outsiders attempting to smuggle contraband into the prison. Sanders has seen it all.

She recalled times when drugs were snuck in through baggies swallowed by inmates, as well as cellphones and other contraband.

"I had a lady with a triple D cup, Z cup, she had like two cellphones up in there. She could have pulled a Buick out,” Sanders said, noting such an act is a jailable offense.

Sanders is the first female warden at the Springfield prison and was the first woman to hold the top role at the previous institutions she led. Last year, she was named Warden of the Year by the Federal Bureau of Prisons’ Agency for Excellence in Prison Management

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