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Mike Snyder Now: Senior Vice President, Prison Fellowship Ministries, Reston, Va. Previously: Partner, Reed Smith, Pittsburgh Not many big-firm partners would ditch their lucrative practice to devote themselves to a spiritual calling — much less one that’s headed by a self-described reformed “hatchet man.” But that’s exactly what Mike Snyder did last spring. A former corporate finance partner at Pittsburgh’s Reed Smith, Snyder is now the senior vice president of Prison Fellowship Ministries in Reston, Va. Founded in 1976, PFM provides faith-based support to prisoners and their families, and actively promotes what Snyder calls a “Christian worldview.” PFM was started by one of former president Richard Nixon’s top advisers, Chuck Colson, who served a seven-month prison term for obstruction of justice in the Watergate-era Daniel Ellsberg case. Colson became a born-again Christian and after his release launched PFM. The organization now claims to be the largest prison ministry in the world. Snyder says his transformation from lawyer to Christian executive didn’t happen overnight: “Some angel didn’t appear before me.” Instead, it was a gradual process, dating back ten years to a Presbyterian mission trip Snyder took to Malawi, Africa. After his return, he and his wife vowed to work full-time on Christianity — though they “didn’t know when or where” at the time. A series of personal crises pushed the decision to a head. In 1999 his wife was diagnosed with breast cancer (he says his wife is now fine — “praise the Lord”). Then Snyder was in a bad car accident, and the couple experienced more health scares. Those events, he says, got his “mind a little more focused,” accelerating their plan to work for a religious cause. Though they had thought, Snyder says, that they’d make the career move eight years from now — when their youngest child would finish college — “we don’t know if both of us will be here eight years from now, or, if we are here, whether both of us will be healthy. We cannot just presume there will be a later.” HOW DID HE GET INTO PFM? Snyder met Colson three years ago on a PFM cruise on the Mediterranean that traced the journey of St. Paul. But he didn’t think of joining the ministry until last year, when a friend, who is a fan of Colson’s radio show, Breakpoint, told him about the opening. “Some people might call it an accident; some providence,” Snyder says. WHAT DOES HE DO NOW? Snyder says his job is “half-managerial, half-creative, with a little dealmaking thrown in.” He defines his mission as promoting “Christians in the marketplace.” In practical terms, that means he lobbies on Capitol Hill for certain causes (PFM successfully advocated the passage of the Prison Rape Elimination Act, which requires prisons to keep statistics and reports on rape; it’s now pushing for anticloning legislation, among other things); participates in management (he’s part of PFM’s executive team); networks with similar organizations; and helps develop content for PFM’s radio show and educational materials (PFM publishes tapes, CDs and other instructional materials). He oversees a staff of about a dozen people, including writers, editors and former lawyers. HESITATION ABOUT WORKING FOR COLSON? “Not at all,” says Snyder about his controversial boss. “Chuck [Colson] has lived with such integrity and nonstop intensity for so long that his life is an open book. He’s an incredible example of the transforming power of gospel.” It helps that Snyder shares many of Colson’s values: “I don’t know everything Chuck thinks, but I’m pretty much with him foursquare [on most issues]” — such as being against abortion and gay marriage. WHAT DID HE GIVE UP? At Reed Smith, Snyder says, he averaged more than $1 million in billings. Over the years, he developed “two very large clients [both public companies] and a dozen to 15 smaller clients.” But he says there was no feeding frenzy about client credit when he left the firm. “It was very gentlemanly,” he says about the process of doling out his clients. AND THAT BIG PAY DROP? Snyder says he took a pay cut that was “substantially in excess of 50 percent” of his take at the firm. But, he says, “I’ve never lived a high lifestyle. My most important goal has been to get my kids educated and out of college without debt, and [to own] a reasonably functional car.” He says the money issue comes down to faith: “It’s a question of deciding, do I really feel God is sending me to do this? If I can get a level of conviction on that, then everything else is subsidiary.” EVERYBODY HAPPY WITH THE CHANGE? “Most people were very supportive, [but] my father struggled the longest.” Snyder says his father had a hard time understanding how he could walk away from a position that he had worked so hard to achieve. As for his Reed Smith colleagues, Snyder says he heard not even a “suggestion of a negative vibration.” Quite a few lawyers, he reports, said, ” ‘You’re my hero — you’re actually doing something about what’s been going on in your mind.’ ” His clients, though, didn’t seem quite as enthusiastic: “ It was very hard to read them.” He speculates that it “might not have been easy for them to understand why anybody would do this.” REGRETS ABOUT LAWYERING? Snyder says no. His advocacy experience, communication ability and analytical skills come in handy, he says, for his current venture. And were there tensions between being a good Christian and an aggressive advocate? “I didn’t see real conflict with my work [as a lawyer] or how I did it. I believe law is a very noble profession. … The conflict for me was not practicing law. The conflict was between two pictures of how I was to spend the rest of my life.” SO WAS BEING A LAWYER ALL PART OF THE PLAN? “Yes,” Snyder says without irony. He’s convinced that he’s traveled a path designed to lead him to where he is today: “I’m pretty confident that the Lord has this in mind for me.” Submit your Escapees nominees to [email protected]

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