For a man who lost everything, Mark Whitacre is surprisingly happy. He smiles and laughs a lot and radiates knee-bouncing, table-tapping, joyful energy like a boy on his birthday.

Can this be the same Mark Whitacre who blew the whistle on the biggest price-fixing conspiracy in FBI history and served more than 10 years in prison? It makes no sense.

Even the friends he grew up with in small-town Morrow must be puzzled. He was the kid whose yearbook probably said "Most Likely to Make the Rest of Us Look Like Slackers." On his 16th birthday he got a GTO from his dad's Pontiac dealership. He married his junior-high sweetheart, Ginger. They were homecoming king and queen in 1975, the year he graduated.

At Ohio State, he set a land-speed record, earning bachelor's and master's degrees in four years, with honors, at age 22. Then he went on to the Ivy League, received eight more advanced degrees from various institutions and specialized in nutritional biochemistry. As the youngest executive at Archer Daniels Midland, he was paid millions and had a corporate jet. His sprawling country estate near Decatur, Ill., had its own horse stables. He was leading the world in ADM research and products.

His star took off like a Roman candle then exploded in a spectacular shower of sparks and fluttered back to earth, leaving a trail of smoke and anguish. It was all taken away.

He was fired. Disgraced. He tried suicide. He went from hero to zero — torn from his family and sent to prison for 10 years and eight months with no chance of parole.

It could be a movie. And it is. In The Informant! (2009), actor Matt Damon played Whitacre as he taped a microphone to his chest every morning and carried a recorder to work in his briefcase for three years. He was an FBI goldmine — a mole at the top of a global company that conspired with competitors to fix prices on food additives and steal billions from manufacturers and consumers.

The FBI doesn't keep informants undercover that long anymore. Not after the way Whitacre melted down from the crushing pressure of his double life. His decisions became so bizarre that the movie played his story not as drama or suspense, but as a dark comedy.

Maybe it should have been a love story.

Ginger never missed a visit while he was bounced around federal prisons like lost luggage, from Chicago to Mississippi to Florida.

Few marriages can survive prison, but Ginger says she never considered leaving Mark. Not even on the night he lost it when she found him in the driveway running a leaf-blower in a thunderstorm at 3 a.m. "Divorce was never an option, but murder was," she laughs.

Mark says she was the hero.

"In 1992, Ginger noticed big changes in me. Work consumed me. She could sense that I was not happy. I was greedy. No matter how much I earned, it was never enough," he recalls. "On Nov. 5, 1992, Ginger started digging deeper into our conversations. So, I finally told her about the illegal activity at ADM.

"Ginger said I should turn myself into the FBI. I told her I could go to prison and that we would lose our home, our cars and our lifestyle. She said she would rather be homeless than live in a home paid for by theft. She said, 'Either turn yourself into the FBI, or I will do it for you.' And she meant it.

"An hour later I was confessing to an FBI agent about my white-collar crime, but it was Ginger who was the true whistleblower of the ADM case."

Ginger says, "God put it in my heart that this had to stop."

ADM bosses were not pleased to discover the FBI sting. "They followed our kids to school. They went through our trash," Ginger says. "When they couldn't stop him, they decided to terrorize his wife and kids. But it didn't work.

"You never know how strong you are until being strong is the only choice that you have.  My faith carried me through." She says, "God knew we had to endure this in order to reach other people."

Mark now reaches other people about 80 times a year — speaking at campuses, boardrooms and prisons. He tells them, "From the outside looking in, I had everything. I was living the American Dream, the best the world had to offer. People would drive by our home and say, 'Mark Whitacre has it all!' What they did not know is that I had a void in my heart the size of the Grand Canyon."

He tells business ethics classes how small lies grew to big ones. How he rationalized stealing more than $9 million from ADM at the same time he was wearing a wire for the FBI. Like the meth-cooking science teacher Walter White in the TV series Breaking Bad, he told himself he was doing it for his family.

After the FBI warned him not to, he foolishly confessed his double-life to an ADM lawyer. He ignored legal advice and talked to the press. And when he was offered a deal to serve only six months, he rejected it and wound up with a sentence 21 times longer. "I was my own worst enemy," he says. Facing prison, he tried to kill himself by piping exhaust fumes into his car but was found and revived.

Looking back, he now sees how God used it all for good. Shortly after he was locked up, he got a visit from Chuck Colson, the Watergate co-conspirator who was sent to prison for obstruction of justice and then launched a successful prison ministry.

"I didn't even know who he was at the time," Whitacre says. But he never forgot what Colson told him.

"Chuck told me from the beginning of my sentence in 1998 that, 'Prison will be the beginning of your life and not the end of your life. You will find your true purpose for your life during this adversity.'

"He said God loved me and no matter what mistakes I had made, God could forgive me. At first, I had thought that the damage I had done and mistakes that I had made were too huge for God to forgive."

But Colson was right. "In June 1998 in a prison cell, I got on my knees, asked God to forgive me and surrendered to Christ. At last, I had peace. Although I was only three months into a decade-long sentence, for the first time in my life, I was content. My life's void, which I had tried to fill with money, mansions, cars and business success, was now satisfied."

When he visits prisons, Whitacre tells inmates to accept responsibility and stop denying and blaming others. "Basically, I made a clear decision to get better, not bitter."

Amazing things happened. Ginger was contacted by a Washington lawyer who told her the companies that were victims of ADM price-fixing — Tyson Foods, Coca-Cola, Kraft — wanted to set up a trust fund for her and her children, to help pay bills and college tuition.

The FBI agents he worked with tried to get his sentence reduced and are still working to get him a presidential pardon.

A day after he was released from prison, he was offered a job at Cypress International, a cancer research company in California, where he is now chief operating officer and chief science officer, commuting from his home in Northern Kentucky.

So how can a man who has fallen so far be so high on life?

To answer that, he offered a movie synopsis of his story: "A man without a purpose in his life, when the world thought he had everything — money, mansion, cars, corporate jet — but he only found his true purpose in life when he lost it all and went to prison for almost a decade. Redemption and a second chance is an awesome gift from God."