On the mind of the Rev. Adrian Dannhauser

May 3, 2024

This past Wednesday, Incarnation hosted a screening of Mothers of Bedford, a documentary film about mothers incarcerated in the Bedford Hills Correctional Facility in Westchester County. One of the statistics we learned was that 80% of female inmates are women with school-age children.

Incidentally, I had a chaplaincy session with a mother incarcerated at Rikers Island the next morning. Soon she will be transferred to a prison upstate, making it difficult for her child to visit.

This scenario – moms in New York serving time far away from their children – is an all too frequent one. Years ago, as a priest at St. James’ Church, I traveled upstate with a group of parishioners and staff of the Osborne Association, an organization that serves children of incarcerated parents. We were taking more than twenty children to see their mothers, who were in prison at Albion Correctional Facility near Rochester.

My charge was a three-year-old bundle of energy and a true handful. She kept me on my toes and most definitely on the run, chasing her through the airport and around our hotel. A member of the Osborne staff told me they’d never had such a challenging child on this type of trip, and that’s why they had given her to me! She was a total joy yet all mischief. She pulled the fire alarm in the hotel. She threw food on the floor from the breakfast buffet. Strapping her in her car seat was a wrestling match every time, and let’s just say bedtime was a nightmare.

With her mom, however, she settled right down to read books and play with toys in the prison visiting area. This little girl hadn’t seen her mother for six months, since her mother had been transferred from Rikers Island.

When it was time to go, she screamed and cried, “Mommy!” for ten minutes straight. This was while the two of us, along with eight other children and chaperones, rode in a police van back to the gate where we had entered the prison campus. By the time we came to a halt, every child in the van was crying too. Her tear-drenched words voiced the lament in all of their hearts.

Sitting with suffering is never comfortable, especially when it causes you to feel helpless – like trying to console a child who is truly inconsolable. So you sit, you wait, and you pray, trying to be a calm and compassionate presence while resisting the urge to do anything more.

This is when the work of mission and outreach becomes mission and in-reach. It’s when God carves out a space in your heart to let another person’s feelings touch you deeply and, if you’re lucky, seal you in relationship. Reaching out. Reaching in. Both are the work of God, who reaches through us to the world. What mission opportunity is within your reach?


Our Mothers of Bedford screening was a fundraiser for Incarnation Camp to provide scholarships to children of incarcerated parents, including children served by our partner in mission, Hour Children. It raised over $24,000 — the cost to send 10 children to sleepaway camp! Thanks to all who participated.