For nearly 17 years, JoAnn Norman’s day job was to guard the women serving time in the Crain Unit in Gatesville, the state women’s prison. Although she retired in 1997, Norman continues to support the women who remain imprisoned at Gatesville. She has led Friday evening prayer services as a volunteer prison minister for more than 20 years.
Some 50 to 100 female inmates attend services at one of four different Gatesville units every Friday night. Women of different ages and backgrounds gather in the prison prayer room for two hours of prayer and fellowship.
Her ministry has contributed to Norman’s own sense of self-worth, and she tries to build the same self-confidence in the women in her care. “I try to instill in them that they need to build lives on their own.”
Now in her 80s, Norman leads an independent and active life. In addition to her ministry, she provides sensitivity training for prison staff members who interact directly with Gatesville inmates. At home, she drives her own John Deere tractor to mow the three acres of grass on her property. “Somebody forgot to tell me I’m supposed to be old!”
Norman says her ERS retirement annuity combined with Social Security has allowed her to live by herself and to avoid having to move in with her children. (She has four children, 10 or 11 grandchildren, and more great-grandchildren than she can keep track of.) She has also been able to provide financial help when a grandchild was diagnosed with cancer.
She herself has had knee surgery. The experience made her especially grateful for the health insurance and prescription drug coverage she receives as an ERS retiree. “I had one of the best knee surgeons in the state. The care I received was tremendous.”
Norman acknowledges that, without the support of her ERS benefits, her rich and blessed life would not be possible.