Hasan K. Zarif, longtime re-entry specialist for Goodwill, retires

Jeremy M. Lazarus | 1/4/2019, 6 a.m.
Minister Hasan K. Zarif has been “Mr. Re-Entry” for untold thousands of people making the transition from prison to civilian ...
Hasan K. Zarif

Minister Hasan K. Zarif has been “Mr. Re-Entry” for untold thousands of people making the transition from prison to civilian life.

A former prisoner himself who rebuilt his life, Minister Zarif has been influential in helping others undertake the hard work of doing the same thing.

Long based at Goodwill of Central Virginia on Midlothian Turnpike, the deep-voiced Richmond native with a white mustache and goatee has provided legions of returnees with counseling and clothing, connected them with Goodwill’s job search services and linked them with partner groups to help with housing and other transition needs.

Most of all, he has been trusted as a person who has walked in their shoes, who could be counted on to listen and offer straight advice without sugarcoating it.

“Whatever they needed, I tried to provide it,” Minister Zarif said.

But his role as Goodwill’s re-entry specialist is over. For the first time in 17 years, he was not on the job when the nonprofit agency reopened following the New Year’s holiday.

The 66-year-old retired on Dec. 28. He has been told that Goodwill would not be hiring someone to fill his shoes.

An ordained Baptist minister since 2007 and founder of God’s Intervention Ministry, he said change is inevitable.

“I’m thankful for everything Goodwill has done” since he joined them in 2001.

He said it was his good fortune to be able to start and run two programs for Goodwill.

He spent his first six years managing Goodwill’s initiative of donating medical equipment such as wheelchairs and crutches to people who needed them, a program that the Roanoke-based F.R.E.E. Foundation later took up after Goodwill ended its role in 2007.

At that point, Minister Zarif undertook the responsibility of managing Goodwill’s re-entry initiative.

Still, he’s not ready to entirely give up the world of work. Already, he is putting out feelers to find other organizations that might need help with re-entry services.

Minister Zarif has been involved in re-entry since being paroled from the James River Correctional Center in 1989. He first served as a prison volunteer and then four years as director of prison ministries for Ephesus Seventh-Day Adventist Church in South Side.

He then spent two years managing the Virginia CARES re-entry program for the Richmond Community Action Program, now CAPUP, before joining Goodwill. His work has earned him awards and accolades from the state Department of Corrections and governors.

Born in Richmond in January 1952, Minister Zarif admits to being a bit wild as a teenager, though he appeared initially to be forging a path to a successful life.

Despite dropping out of school, he said he had become by age 16 an on-air personality on the popular radio station WANT-AM. At 17, he said he won an appointment from President Nixon to represent Richmond at the White House Conference on Youth.

But that didn’t stop him from getting into serious trouble. While he doesn’t offer many details, he said the murder he committed at age 18 led him on a search for forgiveness and salvation that ultimately enabled him to find his calling.

Initially at sea in prison, he said he first learned to forgive himself and then started using his time productively. He got his high school equivalency degree and then earned a certificate in business technology.

He also found a religious connection through talking with members of the Seventh-Day Adventists’ prison ministry, which led him to take biblical and religious courses.

By 1980, he got approval from the warden to hold Bible study and classes in life skills for other inmates.

As a result of the commendations he received from prison officials and community residents, he was paroled 17 years into his life term.

Ultimately through his work, he was able to return to the James River Correctional Center as a prison chaplain. He said he was told he was the first person ever to go back as a minister to a state prison where he had served time.

In the years since, he regularly has held workshops inside the state’s prisons to help inmates prepare for release. For more than six years, he also served as a prison chaplain while working at Goodwill.

He’s proud that by 2007, he had his rights restored and was able later to participate in efforts with Govs. Tim Kaine, Bob McDonnell and Terry McAuliffe to make it easier for former prisoners to get their rights restored. He also received a pardon from Gov. Kaine in 2009 based on his track record.

In Minister Zarif’s view, his most important contribution to re-entry has been “to be a living example of what re-entry is all about. I’ve shown people what it means to be a contributing member of our society.”