Chaplain Hasan Kalem Zarif honored


"Chaplain Hasan Kalem Zarif honored"- Ex-prisoner recognized for community service
By Laura Kebede - Richmond Free Press
In 2007, Hasan Kalem Zarif returned to the James River Correctional Center, the same prison he was held in for 14 years in the 1970s and ’80s, but this time as a free man. Mr. Zarif was the first prison chaplain in Virginia to work at the same place where he previously served time.

“At first they don’t believe me,” Chaplain Zarif said of inmates who hear about his past and what he did to make a better life for himself. “But then I show them documentation. You must be able to show documentation. … And I teach them to do the same.”

On Sunday, more than 100 people came together to honor Chaplain Zarif’s 30-plus years of service in prison ministry and those documented results. The event, sponsored by WCLM radio, was held at Ephesus Seventh-Day

Photos by Jerome Reid/Richmond Free Press
Left, Chaplain Hasan Kalem Zarif, center, displays his community service award. Beside him are his proud cousins, William Minor Jr. and Diane Pratt. Right, Linda Byrd Hedgepeth, one of the program’s main speakers, accompanied by her husband, the Rev. James Hedgepeth.

Adventist Church. Congratulatory statements from Mayor Dwight C. Jones and Gov. Bob McDonnell were read, and the Virginia Department of Corrections awarded Mr. Zarif a certificate of appreciation for his service. But throughout the program, the chaplain insisted on honoring and thanking others in attendance for their commitment to helping him and others like him.
Trophies were awarded to 19 honorees who were once incarcerated and have turned their lives around. Chaplain Zarif had a hand in each of their lives. Redemptive stories of people like Carolyn LeCroy, a CNN Hero who facilitates video recordings of inmates for their children; Rodney White, who the chaplain said once was “one of the biggest drug dealers in Virginia” but is now a highly successful car salesman; and Carla Whitehead, who advocates for restoration of rights after receiving her own, were plentiful at the afternoon gathering. “If only those who are in the prison walls of their mind in society would pull off what you have, we’d be in first place,” said King Salim Khalfani, executive director of the Virginia State Conference of the NAACP and master of ceremonies for the event.
Hasan Kalem Zarif was convicted of murder in 1974 at age 20 and sentenced to life in prison, or more precisely, he said, 645 years. While incarcerated, his uncle and aunt, William and Novella Minor, already having served in the church’s prison ministry for almost 30 years at the time, faithfully visited him. Education was the starting point of his transformation, Mrs. Minor said. The emerging Chaplain Zarif earned his GED and a certificate in business management while in prison and served as the prison ministry’s internal coordinator and Bible instructor. Chaplain Zarif then took off with his newfound purpose. He raised $10,000 selling Dunkin Donuts and recycling aluminum cans and old newspapers and gave it to the ministry, said Randy Myers, president of Chaplain Service and Prison Ministry of Virginia.
In 1989, Mr. Zarif was released on parole because of his strong rehabilitation record. In 2001, Goodwill Industries hired him. Then-Gov. Tim Kaine restored his rights in 2007 and awarded him a pardon in 2009. “He is the personification of paying it forward,” said criminal defense attorney Khalil Latif, who was part of the team that aided in Chaplain Zarif’s release. “Just because you found yourself in a difficult situation, doesn’t mean you can’t be a great man.” Chaplain Vera Rhyne agreed. She made it possible for Mr. Zarif to return to James River Correctional Center as chaplain when she asked him to fill in for her while she was stationed in Kuwait. “He has compassion and is merciful to them,” said Chaplain Rhyne, who worked with the honoree last year to provide suits and dress shoes for ex-offenders to wear to job interviews. “They said, ‘If he can do it, and he did it, then I can do it.’” But even to those who have never known prison life, Chaplain Zarif is an inspirational example. “He taught me how to fight when I was too tired to fight,” said Linda Byrd Hedgepeth, a former executive director of the state NAACP who was a speaker at the inspirational program. “So I can’t tell you what I did for him, but I can tell you what he did for me.”
© 2012 Richmond Free Press
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