My Brother's Keeper of Greater Richmond

"Encouraging Brothers Through the Storms of Life"

July 2015

Journey to Manhood

Hasan Zarif, Re-Entry Specialist

by Monica Haynes

Hasan Zarif is a man who does not live in the past. However, he will reluctantly revisit it if it helps inspires others.

Today, Zarif is a distinguished looking 63-year-old husband, father and grandfather, who works to help those just getting out of incarceration find their footing and their way back into society. He is the Re-entry Coordinator for Goodwill Industries of Central Virginia. 

Recently, Zarif was honored by Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe for his more than 30 years of community service, which included regional, and then statewide volunteer work with the Virginia Department of Corrections before becoming an interim chaplain; having served as Director of Prison Ministries for Ephesus Seventh Day Adventist Church in Richmond, and General Vice President of Prison Ministries for the Allegheny East Conference of the Seventh Day Adventist Church.

He is proof positive that people don’t necessarily have to be trapped by their past. In Zarif’s case his past included some of the same issues he is now helping people to overcome, including incarceration. A native of Richmond, he grew up in the city’s Churchill and Northside neighborhoods. He is the youngest of five children born to Cornelius Minor Jr. and Vivian Brunson Minor. “My childhood, I would really say, it was really not a normal childhood,” Zarif explained. “We were raised by my mother and my mother was a person who taught us to be very obedient to adults, yes, sir, no sir, yes mam and no mam.” She also taught her children to clean, cook, sew and iron.

When he was around 15 or 16, Zarif ran away from home. “Reason being, I just felt that I was bullied when I was going to school. When I was very young, one of the so-called bullies knocked my teeth out of my mouth and nothing was done about it because of how blacks were treated in the 60s. Today, if something like that happened the mother and father would go to school and sue,” Zarif said.

He began wandering the streets and eventually hanging out radio station at WANT in Downtown Richmond. “I began to sweep and mop the floor and run errands for people in the radio station,” Zarif recalled. “I met “Tiger” Tom Mitchell, who’s well known for his role as a pioneer of radio in Richmond.” He also met other Richmond radio legends like Darcelle Ann Allen and Claudette Black McDaniel. “Each of them taught me little traits about radio.”

As a result, Zarif traveled to Washington, D.C. to take a test to obtain his radio operator’s license. “I became a young weekend radio announcer named Dr. Soul. Then, I did a lot of community events at a local nightclub call the Sahara Club working for a guy named Jimmy Winston, they called him Jimmy W.” Because the young Zarif carried himself like an adult, he was able to get into the clubs, he said.

Then something happened that rocked Zarif’s family and shook him to the core. His older brother died amid circumstances that were quite troubling to the family, but that to this day, he does not want to talk about in detail. “When that happened that’s when my life began to spiral to where I ended up in prison. I committed an offense and I really don’t like to talk about it. I don’t really talk about it because I believe whatever is behind you should stay behind you and you shouldn’t dig that back up. The people involved in the case have the right to go on with their lives and not have the past rehashed over and over again.“

What Zarif will reveal is that he was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison. A married man with children, his first wife divorced him. It was during his incarceration that he embraced religion and God. Soon after, he established a prison ministry. “I found God in prison after being on 13 different type of drugs,” he said. They were all medications that had been prescribed to help him deal with the depression and anxiety what had happened in his life and where he found himself. It was during his time in prison that Zarif also changed his name from that which his parents had given him to the one he carries today. “Some people assume I was a Muslim. I had a lot of Muslim friends, but I was never a Muslim in prison,” he explained. “During the years of my incarceration there was a call for African Americans to change their names if they didn’t know where their original name came from.” Some like Malcolm Little became Malcolm X, he said.

“My name was changed not because I was a Muslim, my name was changed because when I was arrested and convicted, my name became such that I didn’t care for my name anymore.” Changing his name gave Zarif the opportunity to make friends and have people get to know him as a person and not make pre-judgments based on his conviction. “When they got to know me they knew that whatever happened in my life as not something that happened when I was in full control of my emotions.”

“I took prison and used it as an opportunity to be a house of education and learning and a way to better myself and learn how to be a contributing member of society.”

While in prison Zarif began to “flip the script and “habilitate” himself.” He says rehabilitation puts a person back where they were before, which might not be a good place. “That’s why you have that revolving door of people who keep coming back to prison,” he explained. But “habilitation” takes you 180 degrees or a half circle which puts you in a better place. Zarif spent 16 years and four months in prison before his exemplary behavior and “habilitation” resulted in his release. He then spent 12 years on parole, without any violations that could have sent him back. “The things that helped me (during that period) was that I was always involved in positive things in the church. Things like drinking and clubs, I stayed away from those places. He also stayed away from people involved in criminal activity and any other thing that could return him to prison.