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Mass incarceration webinar now available on video

Discussion highlights the challenges of returning to society after incarceration

by Darla Carter | Presbyterian News Service

Photo by Wesley Tingey via Unsplash

LOUISVILLE ­— A Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) webinar on the links between mass incarceration and poverty is now available for viewing on Vimeo.

The webinar was recorded in November 2021 as part of “The Struggle is Real,” an ongoing series of online discussions led by the Presbyterian Committee on the Self-Development of People (SDOP).

“We hope that this episode about mass incarceration will assist listeners in understanding some of the salient issues connected to returning to society from incarceration,” said SDOP’s coordinator, the Rev. Dr. Alonzo Johnson. “We are also hoping that (listeners) can see the correlation between mass incarceration and poverty and ways that the church can help provide hope and support for those who seek healing and transformation.”

The Rev. Gregory Bentley is Co-Moderator of the 224th General Assembly (2020). (Photo by Randy Hobson)

For the webinar, the Rev. Gregory Bentley, Co-Moderator of the 224th General Assembly (2020) of the PC(USA), was joined by several other panelists: Minister Chibueze Okorie of the The Church of Gethsemane in Brooklyn, New York; Bonifacio Aleman of LifeSpring Health Systems in southern Indiana; Monica Jahner, a Michigan activist; Katie Talbot of Neighbor to Neighbor in Holyoke, Massachusetts; and Norris Henderson of Voice of the Experienced and Voters Organized to Educate in Louisiana.

“Our greatest teachers, I think, on this panel are those who have been incarcerated,” said Bentley, who also talked about the importance of getting beyond mere conversation and showing people real love.

Various other topics tackled by the panelists included the challenges of finding housing and employment after incarceration, and relationship building.

“The Struggle is Real is about how churches and ministries can become engaged in intentional action by stepping outside their walls to form relationships and live out loving their neighbors through connectional ministry,” Johnson said. “There are churches, ministries and ministry leaders in our denomination who are seeking to be more engaged in these and issues like these. Whether churches or ministries are deeply engaged or if they are in a time of discernment about engagement, this series is about being a key resource for them. In doing so, the purpose of this series is to create space for dialogue about these issues.”

The Rev. Dr. Alonzo Johnson is coordinator of the Presbyterian Committee on the Self-Development of People. (Photo by Rich Copley)

“We also want to promote helpful, practical and useful dialogue and help connect people in the church with practitioners, in the church and in the community, with best practices about relationship building and developing partnerships, presence and activism as well as to explore and learn ways to take concrete actions in living out the witness of Matthew 25 through poverty eradication,” Johnson added.

“The Struggle is Real” series continues with a webinar on Appalachia and rural poverty at 2 p.m. Eastern Time on March 10. Registration opens in early February. (Email if interested).

There also will be a follow-up to the mass incarceration webinar at a later date. Ministry leaders and affected communities will be featured. “This time the emphasis will be on entering the prison to provide care to those who are currently incarcerated and often isolated from community and hope,” Johnson said.

SDOP is one of the Compassion, Peace and Justice ministries of the Presbyterian Mission Agency. Its work is made possible by your gifts to One Great Hour of Sharing.

Mark your calendars for SDOP Sunday, which will be March 13. If you would like to invite an SDOP staff or committee member to speak online to your congregation or at a presbytery/synod meeting, please email

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