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Bonnie Kerness started her 50-year journey at the American Friends Service Committee as a young tenant organizer in Elizabeth, NJ, where she helped build a citywide coalition to support the right to housing. Prior to joining AFSC she was an organizer during the civil rights movement in the South, an experience which provided her with a deep anti-racist analysis that drives her work to this day.

Bonnie recognized that the carceral system in the United States was in a profound spiritual crisis. Her steady and passionate efforts to dismantle these systems have had local, regional, and national impacts. She helped raised awareness of the human rights violations that occur daily in U.S. prisons, highlighted the humanity of people inside, and ensured that their voices are brought forward as the struggle for change continues.

Bonnie has advocated for the end of solitary confinement and improvements in prison conditions, supported families in reentry, led a youth mentoring program, helped to publish and exhibit powerful artwork and testimonies of incarcerated individuals, and much more—all while emphasizing the dignity of each person.

We invite you to learn more about Bonnie’s five decades of service in New Jersey, and to support the NJ Prison Watch program's ongoing commitment to empowering individuals harmed by criminal justice policies and violence. She’s an example of the difference one person can make as part of a community working for change.

Bonnie Kerness: 50 Years with AFSC (PDF)

View and download our newsletter celebrating 50 years of work with AFSC featuring archival images and testimonies inspired by Bonnie's commitment to healing justice.



State of New Jersey resolution honors Bonnie Kerness

In May of 2022, the State of New Jersey honored NJ Prison Watch director Bonnie Kerness and her 50 years at AFSC by presenting her with a joint legislative resolution acknowledging her extensive service


Celebrating 50 years of healing justice work with Bonnie Kerness

Nicole Fleetwood

"Bonnie Kerness is an incredible gift to the universe. I am infinitely grateful for her work, her character, her love, her commitment. I met Bonnie about eight years ago early into my research on art and mass incarceration. She has become a trusted friend, interlocutor, and advisor. Bonnie is so generous with her time and expertise. She is the embodiment of a change maker, of someone who is enacting beloved community."

Nicole Fleetwood
Author of Marking Time: Art in the Age of Mass Incarceration

Lewis Webb

"While I reflect on Bonnie’s work towards healing and justice, I’d like to lift up her commitment to young people. I’ve marveled at her work with the Liberation Summer campers, interns and young volunteers. Bonnie has been and continues to be an amazing teacher, facilitator, colleague, and champion to me."

Lewis Webb
AFSC Healing Justice Program