By Tim Jimenez

CAMDEN, N.J. (CBS) – A faith-based Camden organization is now working to give ex-cons a warm welcome once they get out of jail.

Camden Churches for Organized People (CCOP) wants to keep those who are free from jail on the right path. So, for them they’re opening what they call “Welcome Centers” once a month at different locations in the city, the first one here at Joe’s Place with Sacred Heart Catholic Church. One of CCOP’s community leaders is Carlos Merced, 34.

“Right now we want to be here for them and show them that we will support them,” Merced said. “They’re not a number anymore. They are actually a community member.”

He says their focus now is getting people to sign up for Medicaid, and they’ll also help with other issues like clearing roadblocks to employment. Merced is helping because he knows the struggle.

“I’ll speak about it freely, my case was conspiracy with attempt to distribute crack cocaine.”

Merced spent about four years in prison, was released in 2005, and says he never returned because of a strong support system he knows he was lucky to have.

“I had my family to come back to. I had my family to help me out,” Merced said. “Some people who are coming out don’t have that.”

For more information on this program you can reach Frank Stiefel, a CCOP Community Organizer at (856) 966-8869 or You can also go to


Top Content On CBSPhilly

Watch & Listen LIVE