Local business giving ex-con a second chance

KALAMAZOO, Mich. (NEWSCHANNEL 3) - A local business is giving an ex-con a second chance.

41-year-old Michael Wilder, of Kalamazoo, spent years on the wrong side of the law, dealing drugs and bouncing in and out of prison.

But when he landed behind bars for the third time, Wilder decided enough was enough.

He vowed to turn his life around, and Wednesday, he spoke with Newschannel 3 about his past, and what he hopes is a bright future with a new job.

Wilder starts Thursday at Toyota Metro-Engel Imports in Kalamazoo.

He says he knows he has a fairly lengthy criminal history, and he is grateful someone would give him a chance.

"I have six drug felonies over the course of 20 years; I've been in prison three times," Wilder said.

He says he spent most of his life in a gang, and he's seen his fair share of violence.

For two decades, Michael Wilder was a well-known drug dealer in West Michigan.

"Matt raided my house, I had a drug house on Hays Park back in 2006," he says of his now friend, Kalamazoo Public Safety Sergeant Matt Elizinga.

Wilder went to prison, but it didn't take long for him to realize something had to change.

"That really was the catalyst that had me start thinking, because that happened on my birthday. On my 33rd birthday that happened; I saw a man die," he said.

That was the turning point.

Wilder went back to prison for a third time, but when he got out, he let go of the life he'd known for years.

He enrolled at KVCC, and together with a former gang member, is now working to change the community for the better, one child at a time.

His good deeds are paying off, as well.

Despite his past, Metro Toyota-Engel Imports in Kalamazoo decided to give him a second chance.

"He called me last night; it was rather, it was after midnight and, you know, he was ecstatic, he said...'I got this good job,'" Elzinga said.

Asked about it, Dave Badiner, of Metro Toyota-Engel Imports, said, "he's got the respect of the town, the community, the police--why not give him a second chance."

Several years after the drug raid Wilder talked about, he and Sergeant Elzinga struck up a friendship.

They now go door-to-door together to talk to people around the community.

Wilder, along with his partner, has started Peace During War, a project that works to keep kids off the streets.

To check it out, just click here.