Correctional officer becomes caregiver for inmate's newborn baby after she couldn't find anyone
It cost her a job she loved, but she has no regrets.
Having a baby can be stressful under normal circumstances, but having to prepare for a baby while incarcerated has to feel nearly impossible. For an inmate in Louisiana who was pregnant and in prison for a minor crime with a short sentence, options were nonexistent.
Katie Bourgeois, who is currently serving time at Louisiana Transitional Center for Women in Tallulah, Louisiana, found herself desperate for help as her due date quickly approached in May. She is due to be released in July.
The new mom didn't have any family to take her new baby, and she worried that if she didn't find a caregiver, the infant would go into foster care. That's when Roberta Bell, a correctional officer at the facility, helped to ease her worries. Bell worked at the facility for over three years and enjoyed her job helping women. But when Bourgeois was trying to find a temporary caregiver for her unborn child, it was a running joke among staff that Bell was going to take the baby—until it wasn't.
Bourgeois approached Bell and pleaded her case for the correctional officer to become the legal caretaker of her baby.
“She was very concerned about Child Protection Services getting the baby and her not knowing where the baby was since she had such a short term to serve,” Bell told WLBT. “She said, ‘I really need somebody to get my baby when I get ready to have it because I don’t have anybody.'”
Before taking on the duties of caretaker, Bell reached out to her superior to make sure she would not be violating any rules, but weeks had passed without an update. According to WLBT, no one had returned her inquiry until a few days before the baby was delivered, and at that point, Bell had already provided the new mom with her contact information for the hospital to transfer the baby to her.
This is what caused her termination, but the correctional officer was undeterred. She fully planned to fulfill her promise to the scared mom and care for her baby until she gets released in July. Kayson Bourgeois was born May 17, and Bell took him back to her home in Mississippi since she is no longer employed.
Approximately 58,000 pregnant people go to jail or prison every year and thousands of babies are born while their mothers are incarcerated, according to Prison Policy Initiative. After giving birth, new parents are typically allowed to spend 24 hours with their newborn in the hospital before the mother returns to prison or jail. The child is then placed with a relative or in foster care. Only 12 states offer prison-based nursery programs, making the likelihood of separation high.
Thankfully for Bourgeois, she had a correctional officer who was willing to take the risk of losing her job to make sure her baby stayed out of the foster care system, and Bell has no regrets. When WLBT asked if she would change anything, she said, "I wouldn’t because this is me. There’s no changing."
“My passion was to open a recovery home for the women that are coming out of prison. I have not been successful in that yet, but I know that I will be. To get them away from the surroundings that they were in that caused them to get in trouble. That’s my passion,” Bell told WLBT.
Maybe someday she'll get to do just that. For now, the 57-year-old's top priority is taking care of baby Kayson and making sure he has everything he needs. If you'd like to donate to help Bell care for Kayson, you can donate to her GoFundMe here.