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Walking (with God) in Memphis (reporting from Memphis, Tenn.): In the nation’s poorest metro area, a Christian ministry trains former inmates to succeed at work — and life.

MEMPHIS, Tenn.  — In a room at the Midtown Church of Christ, a dozen men bow to pray each weekday morning.

Then they drop to the ground and do 10 to 15 pushups.

“It’s just something I added to relieve a little physical stress,” teacher Antonio Owens — known to his students as “Tough Love Tony” — said of the exercise regimen.

These men — most convicted felons who spent years behind bars — know a little something about stress, as do the women studying down the hall with senior teacher and counselor Laura Harrison.

“I’m trying to get myself headed in a brand-new direction,” said Joshua Banks, a repeat offender who served nine years in prison. “I know I can’t start over, but I can make this a new beginning.”

Banks credits his chance for a new beginning to HopeWorks, a Memphis job-training ministry associated with Churches of Christ.

The program, which traces its roots to Christians who came together in the late 1980s to fight homelessness, has graduated more than 1,000 students since 1998.

HopeWorks’ success in helping former inmates was highlighted during the recent 42nd annual National Jail and Prison Ministry Workshop, hosted by the Highland Church of Christ in Cordova, Tenn., east of Memphis.

Related column: Out of prison, into hope (reporting from Kansas City, Kan.)

These stories appear in the June 2015 print edition of The Christian Chronicle.

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