A Mississippi correctional officer lost her job after giving the newborn a home. 'I knew it was the right thing to do,' Bell said.
How far would you go to protect a baby? Roberta Bell worked for over three years at the Louisiana Transitional Center for Women, a privately-run educational and training corrections facility in Tallulah, Louisiana. As a Corrections Officer, she did not think twice when she learned that inmate Katie Bourgeois was just months away from giving birth to her first child and was desperately looking for a caretaker. Even if it meant losing her job, Bell jumped in and gave Bourgeois' newborn a home. "She was trying to find somebody that would help keep her baby until she finished her term," Bell told WLBT.
The 30-year-old inmate was serving time for drug charges. She found out she was pregnant a few months into her sentence and felt "panicked." "I didn't have anyone who would help, and I didn't want my baby to get sent away with Child Protective Services," Bourgeois told The Washington Post. "I wasn't sure what to do or where to turn." As she spoke to several others at the center, they advised her to speak to Bell, who's known for her love of babies. "Everyone said she was sweet and always kept her word," she said.
When Bourgeois reached out to Bell, a grandmother of eight, she immediately offered to help without hesitation. "I knew it was the right thing to do," Bell said. "When I asked Katie if she'd like me to come and get her baby when it was time, you could see the relief on her face. She said, 'Miss Bell, I'd love for you to take my baby because I don't have anyone else to do it.'"
She is a wonderful human being & will be greatly rewarded. Best of luck to all three. ❤️— Lisa (@edwardslisa411) July 16, 2023
Bell was not allowed to provide her personal contact information to an inmate, but she knew she had to be there for Bourgeois and her baby. She said she'd take in the infant for about two months while Bourgeois finished her prison time. "I knew that God wanted me to follow my heart, and I knew I couldn't allow a baby to go to protective services when Katie really wanted that child," she said. Bell told her supervisor about her plan, but the latter seemed skeptical. "[My supervisor] said it sounded like a conflict of interest because I worked there, but that he'd talk to some people in charge," Bell said. "I didn't hear back about it."
By May 16, Bourgeois went into labor and was later sent to a hospital for delivery. At the same time, Bell was called into a meeting with facility administrators. "The captain said, 'We've learned that your contact information was given to an inmate,' and he told me it was against the rules," Bell recalled. "He asked if I was still going to go through with [caring for the baby], and I told him that if the hospital called me, I was going to go and get that child."
She admitted she was "aware it would be seen as a conflict of interest, but I am a woman of my word. I wanted to do the best thing for Katie and her child." She was immediately fired. The following day, Bourgeois gave birth to a boy named Kayson.
"So many of them have been used and abused and have had hard lives on the streets," Bell said. "I found that if I showed them a little love, it went a long way. I sensed that Katie was a good person who had just made some bad choices in her life." Bourgeois was released from prison on July 4 and according to the 58-year-old former prison guard, "it was further confirmation that I'd done the best thing for them both." Both mother and infant son have been staying with Bell until they get on their feet.
A GoFundMe has been set up for Bell for her plans to open "Serenity Centers for women and children who are in need of help and shelter." Bourgeois added, "How can I thank this woman? She's a stranger who showed so much love. If not for this angel, I don't know what I would have done. I feel like I've found a friend forever in Miss Bell."
Although losing her job has presented some challenges for Bell, she says ultimately, it was all worth it. "To see his little face and his smile—it was just a joy,” she said. “And now, to watch Katie with him and see all of that love and the promise of a new beginning has made it all worthwhile.”