SIU law professor, students open community center

SIU+law+professor%2C+students+open+community+center

By Tierra Carpenter, @Tierramc_

A professor in SIU’s School of Law decided he could use his experience to serve the Carbondale community.

Adjunct professor James Chapman opened a community center on Saturday, the Center for Empowerment and Justice, at 215 N. Washington St., alongside The Rev. Sidney Logwood to help those who have been affected by the criminal justice system.

“The center is a creation for people who live in the community, predominantly on the north, northeast side of Carbondale that desire to help people to get control of their lives through learning different skills,” said Chapman, who also co-founded the Uptown People’s Law Center in Chicago, a similar community center that opened in 1975.

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Logwood said it’s important to give former prisoners a second chance. 

“People don’t know what it’s like inside of prisons,” Logwood said. “They figure you deserve to go, that’s why you’re there and whatever they do to you while you’re there, you deserve it. It’s not humane what they do to inmates in so many instances when they are incarcerated.”

Chapman said he chose to open this community center in Carbondale because of the large amount of prisons in southern Illinois. There are about 13 prisons within 45 miles of Carbondale, according to countyoffice.org.

As the employability coordinator at SIU’s Employability Development Program, Monet Williams already helps ex-convicts obtain jobs. But her position at SIU does not allow her to meet with clients on-campus, she said.

“This was a perfect win-win for both of us — that I’m able to provide that service, and they are able to provide me the space,” Williams said.

She said before getting an office in the community center, she would have to meet with clients at public places, such as the library or a restaurant.

The community center will also serve anyone in need of legal advice, lawyer referrals, computer literacy training, job preparation training, help getting social security benefits and help finding affordable housing.

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Shannon Butler, a graduate student in social work from Carbondale, said affordable housing is scarce in this area.

“If you have been in prison before it’s even harder and even more scarce than if you haven’t been in prison,” Butler said. “A lot of landlords are scared of taking on the liability of renting to someone who has a criminal background, so I try to advocate for those individuals and bridge that gap.”

Butler, who has lived in Carbondale for the last 25 years, said she tries to connect ex-felons with as many resources from the community as she can. She will also help the staff of the center, keeping them educated on how to effectively work with individuals in the community that are disadvantaged.

Despite being in SIU’s social work department, graduate student Joon Kang said he never heard anything about these problems from his professors or classmates.

“Students live in a different world it seems like. [There’s] SIU people. Then there’s Carbondale people,” said Kang, who works with the new community center. “SIU people generally don’t get involved in the community, and that’s a shame because we have so much great potential to be serving the community.”

Starting April 11, the center will be open from 5 to 7 p.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturdays. 

Tierra Carpenter can be reached at [email protected] or 618-536-3325.

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