C.F. Hazlewood, Jr., director of TDCJ’s Agribusiness, Land & Minerals Department, is something of a paradox. For one thing, he’s a city kid who ended up working the land for a living. And at 6-4 and a muscular 230 pounds, he still looks like the rough tough U.S. Marine Corps lieutenant he once was. Yet he is senior pastor at a Christian fellowship church, where he placidly preaches the gospel every Sunday.
“I get that all the time,” Hazlewood said about comments from people who say his broad build and clean-shaven head makes him look more like a Marine than a pastor.
Hazlewood, 49, has been preaching and teaching the Bible for more than 20 years. Before that, however, he confesses that he didn’t always behave like a pastor. In fact, after having his hopes for a military career dashed by a spinal injury, his lifestyle was often wayward.
“I was kind of fed up with my life at that time,” he said. “I knew that there had to be more to life than running around bars. My life just didn’t seem to be fulfilling. Nothing really satisfied me, and I was kind of frustrated about not being able to fill out a military career. I just wasn’t a nice person.”
But that changed one Sunday morning in 1984 when his wife Kathy managed to drag him to a small Baptist church for services.
“I just heard the gospel preached at church and I knew that I needed to be forgiven of my sins,” he said. “I was saved that day.”
At the time, Hazlewood, who joined TDCJ as a correctional officer at the Eastham Unit near Lovelady in January 1983, had just been promoted to an administrative position in what was then the agency’s Agriculture Department in Huntsville.
“I was saved on Sunday, and I started my job in the agriculture office that following Monday,” he said.
Hazlewood assisted with managing the agency’s livestock and poultry programs until January 2002 when he was selected to administer the overall livestock operation. He was named the Agribusiness, Land & Minerals Department’s interim director in February 2005 and became director two months later. As director, he oversees one of the largest farming and ranching operations anywhere.
“I think being the director here is the best job in TDCJ,” he said. “I love it because it’s the best of both worlds. You get to work in agriculture and you get to work with the people involved in the field. And you get to interact with the offender population. It’s a super job.”
Hazlewood grew up within the concrete confines of southwest Houston where his father worked as a research scientist at Baylor College of Medicine. He said his father’s work in nuclear physics got him interested in biology and genetics at a young age and eventually led to his involvement in the breeding of exotic poultry. After high school, he studied poultry science at Texas A&M University and entered the university’s U.S Marine Corps officer training program. Wed to Kathy in 1977, he was commissioned a second lieutenant in the Marine Corps in May 1979 upon his graduation from Texas A&M. And after boot camp, he was soon deployed to the Middle East as an artillery officer with the Second Marine Division.
“I planned on being in 30 years, but I got injured,” he said.
Hazlewood dislodged two vertebrae in his neck when he fell headfirst into a six-foot-deep foxhole during a nighttime training exercise conducted in a rainstorm at Fort Bragg, North Carolina following his return from overseas. The injury initially left him paralyzed from the chest down, and, in a fateful twist, he had to be evacuated in a vehicle when the helicopter dispatched to retrieve him from the rain-soaked mountainous region crashed while trying to land.
“When the chopper crashed, I was evacuated out in a Jeep with four Marines sitting on top of me to keep me from bouncing,” he said. “But in the process of traveling down that mountain, somehow the vertebrae in my neck realigned itself and didn’t sever my spinal cord. God obviously had a plan for my life, something besides that.”
Hazlewood began recovering after two days, but he continued to suffer from side effects that eventually ended his military career as a first lieutenant. He had been in the service less than four years. As it turned out, the 1983 mishap occurred as Hazlewood’s artillery unit was training for redeployment to Lebanon. Many of them, including Hazlewood’s replacement, would die when terrorists detonated explosives at the U.S. Embassy in Beirut shortly after their arrival.
“I lost 82 Marines from my unit in that embassy bombing,” Hazlewood said.
After leaving the Marine Corps, Hazlewood returned to Texas and looked for work as a county extension agent. He instead joined TDCJ and rose to the rank of sergeant at Eastham before being recruited to put his college degree to work as an administrator in the agricultural department.
“I figured that TDCJ would be a temporary job until I could find something else,” he said. “But I love TDCJ. When you look at the overall opportunity here, the opportunity is unbelievable. For someone who wants to come in an apply himself or herself, it’s a heck of a job.”
Hazlewood first started preaching in 1986 when he took a job paying $25 a week to minister to the six-member congregation of a country church near Lovelady. At the same time, he started attending night and weekend classes at the College of Biblical Studies in Houston where he earned a degree in 1993. Four years later he received a master’s degree from the Dallas Theological Seminary.
“It was tough,” he said about juggling his studies with his preaching duties, while at the same time, holding down a full-time job and raising a family of four children with his wife of 30 years. “But I knew I had to get trained in the Bible if I was going to teach it. It took a commitment.”
After 11 years as pastor of the small rural church, Hazlewood moved to a Christian fellowship church in Huntsville as senior pastor in 1997. A year later, the church, which focuses on missionary work locally and throughout the world, merged with another and now counts an average of 500 parishioners at each service. As senior pastor, Hazlewood conducts two Sunday services and teaches a Sunday School class. He also provides marital counseling and other spiritual services to members of the congregation. While he attends to his job with TDCJ during the week, associate pastors handle daily administrative church duties.
In addition to his congregation, Hazlewood also preaches to TDCJ offenders when invited. Calling on his own experiences, he tells offenders to put their pasts behind them and move forward.
“A person’s integrity and name is probably the most important thing they have,” he said. “Even with offenders. They have a bad past, sure, but I always tell them that they can change, that they can change their future. And the best way for them to do that is to be honest with themselves and learn from their mistakes. I’ve learned from my mistakes in life. In fact, some of the best people I have known in life have been people who have learned from their mistakes.”
He offers the same guidance to his staff.
“When it comes to jobs, everyone is going to mess up at times,” he said. “But making mistakes doesn’t mean it has to be the end of a person. Many times that can be the beginning of becoming a better person.”
Once he retires from TDCJ, Hazlewood plans to become even more involved with his church and perhaps do some prison ministry. But he’s in no hurry to leave the agency that helped shape his life.
“I’m happy for what’s happened, and I’m happy for where I am,” Hazlewood said. “I love the organization I’m with, and I think one of the saddest days in my life will be when I have to leave here. I get up in the morning and I’m excited about coming to work. I’m excited about the people I work with, and I’m excited about this organization. I love it.”