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Program provides ex-cons with second chance

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Kellie Johnson is a 20-year-old ex-con with no real direction in life. She was released from jail in May and she made a commitment not to go down that road again. Kellie Johnson is a 20-year-old ex-con with no real direction in life. She was released from jail in May and she made a commitment not to go down that road again.

(WMC-TV) - Ex-cons are getting a second chance, thanks to the a program in Memphis that empowers them to move forward from their past.

Kellie Johnson is a 20-year-old ex-con with no real direction in life. She was released from jail in May and she made a commitment not to go down that road again.

Thursday, she graduated from a program called HopeWorks, which gives her a second chance and the surprise of her life.

"I'm excited because I feel well prepared by them," said Johnson.

It is often said that life is all about choices.

"I don't know what I'd be doing it I didn't come here," added Johnson, who says choices have led her down several paths.

"I was incarcerated for 22 months," she said.

Johnson was arrested for robbery, just two months after she finished high school.

"I did about nine months going back to Jail East and then I did about 13 months at the penal farm," she explained.

In May, she left prison with one goal in mind. She didn't want to make anymore choices that would lead her to jail.

Tara Albright and a 13-week program called HopeWorks came to her rescue.

"She's a go getter, she's really good with the computer," said Albright. "That background was keeping her from getting a job."

Tara works side by side with all participants to choose a career path, get an internship, and find a job. The program also encourages faith in God and hope for a better future.

"You actually have people reminding you every day how good God is, how he's putting people in your life, how he's supposed to not only receive but give. It's always better to give than receive anyway," said Johnson.

At lunchtime Thursday, Johnson received something she has never had before. As she watched her fellow classmate, Janice, get a job, Johnson had no idea she was next.

One week from Saturday, Johnson will get her fresh start with Answering Advantage, owned by Susan Mealer.

"You know, this is my first job," she said. "It feels great. Great is not even the word for it. It feels fantastic. It's security, you know?"

"It's very humbling to be involved with giving somebody a second chance, I think," said Mealer. "And we are very excited to a part of that."

"I feel like somebody's got my back now, like even more," said Johnson.

Johnson and dozens of others who are habitually unemployed graduated from HopeWorks Thursday evening. All of them are hopeful they will find a job to get back on their feet.

Answering Advantage plans to hire several more people as soon as the jobs are available.

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