Bark River Knives gives those previously incarcerated a second chance

Positively U.P.

ESCANABA, Mich. (WJMN) – A Delta County company prides itself on giving people a second chance.

“You’re helping your own company and you’re helping society in general. It [doesn’t] get better than that. It just [doesn’t] get better than that,” said Mike Stewart, co-owner of Bark River Knives.

Stewart and his wife are the owners of Bark River Knives. They’ve been manufacturing semi-production cutting tools since 2001 and are distributed worldwide. What started off in a dairy barn with four employees has now expanded to a new building in Escanaba with 47 employees. Many of those employees have been previously incarcerated or have a criminal record.

“Holding that against them for the rest of their life doesn’t seem productive to me because you’re giving them alternatives to do anything but something criminal. So if we can take a person like that who really wants to straighten their life out and make them productive. First of all, they develop a sense of pride that they’ve never had before. It’s amazing to watch when it works, and we’ve had a lot of success with it,” said Stewart.

One of those success stories is Dustin Menard, a CNC operator at Bark River Knives. He recently got his tether off and bought his own home.

“Gave me a chance to prove myself, that I’ve learned a lot. I’ve come a long way, gave me a chance to start over,” said Menard.

17-year-old Hailey Olli, who works in the shipping department, said Stewart is like an adoptive grandfather to her and helped her through some life problems.

“It’s awesome because a lot of places around here won’t hire you if you have a record or if you’ve been to jail and Mike gives everyone a second chance,” said Olli.

Bark River Knives also hires those with chronic medical conditions.

“I was looking for a job, I hadn’t worked in five years because of my medical issues,” said Elizabeth Johnson, who works in the leather department. “I left my husband, [was] starting over. I had nothing. Looking for a job people won’t hire me because of my medical issues, and Mike did. We have entirely too much fun and I get to learn new things and it’s like a big family here.”

For more information on Bark River Knives, click here.

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