Helping people re-enter society: The Center of Empowerment and Justice

The Center for Empowerment and Justice is a support center in Carbondale helping people get back on their feet after exiting prison and rehabilitation centers.

Established in 2017 by Jim Chapman, who moved to Carbondale from Chicago, the center offers court support, laundry services, bike repair, housing assistance and employment assistance. 

CEJ Executive Director Jennifer Fertali, said the project started after Chapman met Rock Hill Baptist Church  Pastor Sindeney Logwood, who ran a shoe shine stand for people to make money.


Jim had spent much of his career in prisoners, civil rights cases and prisoners medical claims cases,” Fertali said. “Jim wanted to provide support for folks coming out of prison back into the community.”

After a while Chapman  opened the center for special events, but had to scale back operations as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, Fertali said.

“We have reduced hours that we’re open currently because we’re entirely volunteer staffed, as opposed to, to paid staff,” Fertali said.

Hours have been changed to 12 p.m. to four p.m. instead of the usual 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., and services  like court support were moved online, Fertali said.

CEJ member Nathan Colombo, said one of the first successes the center had was their visit to Centerstone with people transitioning from incarceration.

“We will simply socialize with folks and the results that we saw from socializing with folks from engaging and community building… years later, the results of that in folks like Solomon [X Young] who’ve become a successful notable business owner,”, Colombo said.

Providing a safe space for people to figure out their next steps in life is why CEJ provides the services that they do, Colombo said.


“Whether that’s incarceration, extreme poverty, and homelessness, addiction or substance issues… any number of things that folks may be facing in life, we’re there to meet them where they are, and see if we can help them,” Colombo said.

CEJ staff and volunteers also worked on projects outside the center, like the “Tiny House Project” which provides housing for low income and houseless people, “Solar Energy” which is a solar panel tree that provides power to residential and commercial properties, and “Challenging Homelessness.”

“We’re still working with folks who walk into our door day to day saying, ‘I’m concerned about my housing situation, either don’t have it, or what I have is under threat,’ and then we work with folks to get them in a stable situation,” Columbo said.

Solomon X Young said he got involved with the center after being in a Centerston halfway house where he met Pastor Sidney Logwood who became his business partner, Young said.

Young said he was attracted to entrepreneurship because of his plan to start a small business, then found out Logwood and his wife operated a barbecue business in Murpysboro.

“After talking to him from time to time he agreed to mentor me and helped me start a business,” Young said. “ We came to the agreement that we’re going to start a food stand so we bought a hotdog cart and we began to work.”

With the recent passing of Jim Chapman in August, the CEJ board got together and planned to continue the journey of helping the community, Young said.

“One of my goals is just being involved with them as I would like to see them get involved with more work,” Young said. “That was how I started, you know, someone being able to mentor individuals who are coming from maybe transitional housing, some type of transitions, and finally decide they want to do something with themselves.”

Young, Colombo and Fertali said they feel that CEJ has made an impact on the Carbondale community.

“Our hope is to find the gaps in services and then find the people that are experiencing those gaps in service and provide them and provide them whatever service we can determine that they need is both the center and the client,” Colombo said.

Staff reporter Jamilah Lewis can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @jamilahlewis. To stay up to date with all your southern Illinois news, follow the Daily Egyptian on Facebook and Twitter.