Faith in frame: local man transforms prison struggle into business opportunity
PEORIA (25 News Now) - Trying to help as many people as possible. That’s the mission of a Peoria man who, after nearly two decades behind bars, wants to follow a new calling.
Steven Snook’s first memories are of life in Virginia foster care, before being taken to his then-new home in Danville, Illinois. There, he grew up in extreme poverty over the course of his upbringing. By the age of 15, he was involved with drugs. After turning 19, he was transporting marijuana from South Texas into Central Illinois. And by 26, he was arrested by the DEA for smuggling cocaine, sentenced to 22 years in the federal prison system. Over the course of that time, he was transferred to eight different federal facilities across states like Florida, North Carolina, and Virginia. That included time in solitary confinement, serving a year of time during one period.
For most, Steven’s sentencing sounds like a punishment. But for him, it was an opportunity. Six months into his sentence, he discovered his brother was involved in a devastating accident, attributing his own behavior as a cause. That’s when he realized his negative impact was much broader. It was time for a change, he says, and to give his life over to a greater power.
Snook’s family didn’t grow up going to church. For much of his childhood, he says, abuse and violence were the common practices of the household. But that didn’t stop a change in perspective. He says an encounter with Jesus was needed, sparking the shift his life demanded.
“I was trapped in that cycle, and I had no way out,” he says. “There was nowhere else to turn, so I turned to the Lord.”
Part of that transformation, which he refers to as being ‘born again,’ involved understand his mission of spreading the word of the scripture. After his revelation, Snook began a rigorous routine of prayer and fasting, sometimes praying for five hours a day. Fellow convicts began to question his path, along with the life he beginning to lead.
According to Snook, being in prison is a lonely experience, and his transformation highlighted that fact. But he adds it’s not the prison itself that changes a person.
“That opportunity to get better doesn’t come from the system,” he says, “it has to come from you.”
Snook read the Bible more times than he could count, eventually elevating him to a level of pseudo-counselor for those he shared space with. Many, he says, were ‘born again’ just like him, as he preached and told stories through the bars of his cell, shouting down the hallway to anyone asking for him to speak. Drug addicts would occasionally spend time in solitary confinement with Snook, with whom he would converse about faith. Many of those he interacted with were gang members seeking reform, searching for meaning in the words Snook spoke.
“That made a powerful impact, they would become hungry for God,” he says. “If I could make them hungry for God, and get them to start fasting and start praying more often, the change was radical.”
Through his work, Snook began to gain a reputation among not just those he shared the facilities with, but the system as a whole. Prisoners he encountered in various locations would ask (and still do) for him to pray for them. In turn, he would speak with them about whatever was on their minds, be it faith or the search for something better than the existence they currently had to face.
Then, everything changed. Snook was released nine months ago, coming to live in Peoria soon after. That’s where his re-acclimation to the world began, crunching 20 years of knowledge, events, and change into a much shorter period of time. That also meant receiving his first smartphone. His support system, he says, was invaluable over the course of his readjustment to society at large. That didn’t distract him from his mission, however.
Two years prior to Snook’s release, he recounts a series of vivid dreams. In them, he says, God showed him frames with rotating images of scripture inside, hanging on the walls of homes. He didn’t understand at first, and initially looked to get a job in construction after his release. But he still felt the calling pulling him in the direction of building the frames, and the need to present the product to the public. So he began to network, eventually finding the place that would give him everything he needed.
‘Peoria Next’ is a startup incubator connected to Bradley University. Originally created by a group of local companies that included Caterpillar, University of Illinois Medical, and Ag Lab, together they sought to create a biotechnology center exclusive to Peoria. Their goal was to utilize local innovation to create helpful products with easy and quick solutions to problems their own industries faced. 15 years ago, thanks to state grants and assistance from Bradley, Peoria Next was constructed on Main Street. Today, startups can rent lab and office space below a market rate, which increases 10% a year to help encourage tenants grow to the point they are ready to move out without losing oversight. The system, according to the center, helps companies reduce the amount of money for operations and put it towards innovative products.
With support from Bradley (who still manages the institution) and the school’s Turner Center, Peoria Next not only helps with research and development, production, and distribution, but also strengthening the behind-the-scenes of company like marketing, social media, and accounting. The total market cap of all the center’s ‘graduates’ since its opening is over $2 billion, with some companies even getting national attention. That includes Natural Fiber Welding, recently winning a national invention award for their work with synthetic materials.
In Snook’s case, his passion for his Scripture Frames lead to him getting taken under the center’s wing.
“You could tell that he was really focused on ‘I want to make this thing happen’,” says the Center’s Director Mike Stubbs.
After arriving at the Center, Snook started from the ground up. That included everything from how technology tools work to understanding how to run a business from a management. The former part was especially difficult, as much changed much since Snook last saw society.
“Little did I know in that early call that Steven would be coming into a world that he hadn’t experienced in 20 years. The iPhone wasn’t here, emails are new,” says Stubbs.
But the learning curve hasn’t stopped Snook; if anything, it’s driven his determination.
“At times, it’s a little frustrating, but you just step back and take a breath. And people are willing to help you once they see that you’re driven to that,” he says.
The frames are just one aspect of Snook’s pursuit to spread his message. He’s also working to find an editor for the book he started writing from hand while in prison, chronicling his life. He also has made multiple appearances on podcasts, sharing his story on two of the most popular Christan men’s shows available on platforms. All of that has happened nine months after getting out.
Both Snook and Stubbs agree that it’s a larger construct at work. The goal of Jesus Speaks LLC (Snook’s official brand name) is to not only spread his business ventures, but also reaffirm Snook’s identity as a man who found reform to the public.
“What I’m trying to do with everything that’s in me is help change in an impactful and positive way as many lives as possible. Through my life stories, through the Scripture Frames, and opportunities to speak with people about how the Lord has changed my life.”
Thursday is Steven’s first Thanksgiving as free man since 2002. We asked what he was most grateful for, in light of everything he’s gone through. His biggest message, he tells us, is to not take your family for granted, and to enjoy every moment with them as much as possible. It’s a message of optimism, logical for a man that has found nothing but that since his reemergence not just into the world, but with something greater at work.
To learn more about Steven’s story, Jesus Speaks, and the Scripture Frames, you can click the link to the official website here. If you’re interested in involvement with Peoria Next, including how they could help you with your business, click the link to their official website here, or you can contact Mike Stubbs at email@example.com.
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