Arreba, the person behind ReRe Sandalwood, discusses her interaction with Rachelle and Bella Bond…
I knew Bella Bond and her mom…
In fact, I knew Bella before she was born, because I met Bella’s mother, Rachelle Bond while I temporarily resided at a Roxbury-area homeless shelter. Rachelle Bond had moved into this shelter a few weeks or so after I did; like Rachelle Bond, I was really down on my luck. Specifically, I had not only recently lost a great paying job, but I was also pregnant with my son at the same time Rachelle was pregnant with Bella.
Because Rachelle lived in the downstairs area of the homeless shelter, while I lived upstairs, our interactions were generally limited to the outdoor, back entrance area of the shelter. As I often went to my doctor’s appointments in the services center next door to where we lived, I often saw Rachelle Bond sitting at one of the picnic tables, drinking a cup of coffee and smoking a cigarette. I would cordially greet her, and ask her how her pregnancy was going. She would modestly complain of how her body ached, but would also share how excited she was about the progress of her pregnancy.
One afternoon, while I was still heavy with child, I decided to venture outside for a bit to see if I could feel the cool air against my face. I also yearned to sit up, because my back was hurting something awful. Since there was a few hours left prior to the shelter’s curfew, I thought I would have more than enough time to enjoy the nice weather outside.
As soon as I came outside, toward the picnic tables, I saw Rachelle Bond. Like me, she was very heavy with child…the only difference was that she was smoking a cigarette and looking as if she were deep in thought. I politely spoke to her, and sat down beside her in such a way where the cigarette smoke would not come in my direction.
She looked at me and smiled, then said hello back to me. As usual, I asked her how her pregnancy was going, and she told me that she was tired of being pregnant and was ready to have her baby.
I, too could relate to that sentiment; I was not only diabetic and had to regularly take insulin shots, I also had a hard time sleeping at night because my nipples were in constant pain and my feet would swell at really peculiar times. Thus, I told her, “Girl, I know that is right! I am ready to have my baby too! Do you know what you are having yet?”
“A little girl,” she said.
“Aww man! I wanted to have a little girl, but God decided to give me a little boy instead…” I rubbed my stomach in a circular fashion and smiled. Then I asked, “Have you decided on a name yet?”
“Bella…” Rachelle Bond said gently.
My ears perked up at the name, and I smiled gently. Then, I asked, “Why ‘Bella’?”
Rachelle Bond smiled and said, “I don’t know, I just like the sound of it. It is beautiful…”
I shook my head in agreement, and said, “You know, the name ‘Bella’ is the number one name in the nation right now…all thanks to those ‘Twilight’ movies…it is a beautiful name though, and a very good choice…”
I then told her of my plans to name my son ‘Avery’…I liked the normalcy of the name, I explained, but I also loved the fact that it derived from the Gaelic language, and meant “magical spirit.”
Though this is a rather usual conversation for two pregnant women to have, I remember it now that I finally know who Baby Doe actually is…as well as was. Baby Doe was Bella Bond…the unborn baby I had met while living in the shelter with her mother.
This conversation, along with others I had with Rachelle Bond, never provided any clues to the kind of person she has been portrayed as being in the media. Rachelle Bond was not only excited about her pregnancy, she appeared to be happy even after Bella was born. I remember, upon hearing that Rachelle Bond finally had Bella, how excited I was to finally meet the little person in the flesh. I remember that in my excitement, I took the time to not only look upon her at one of our homeless, shelter-based meetings, but to tell Rachelle that Belle was a beautiful baby.
If I had to reflect on what I remember most about that day, I would say that I remember Bella’s brown hair because it framed her face. Her hair, as well as her very tiny body, was a site to behold. Yet, like all infants, Belle would wiggle her mitten hands in such a way where her covered hands would brush up on her face. In turn, Rachelle Bond kept Bella’s hands covered in baby mittens to insure that she would not scratch herself when she wiggled in her baby seat/stroller.
Her mother also regularly breastfed her, and realized real quick that she had to be consistent and timely in Bella’s feeding. This is because Bella rarely raised a fuss. In fact, Bella was the kind of baby that would merely whimper when she was hungry; it was a sound that could be easily missed if you were not a thoroughly attentive mother.
Upon setting my eyes upon Bella, I told Rachelle Bond that she did good, and that Bella was a beautiful baby. She gave me this very wide smile, and thanked me.
Once I had my son in September, I would sometimes take my son out to where Rachelle Bond routinely sat…behind the homeless shelter’s back entrance. However, because Rachelle Bond routinely smoked, I made sure to sit in such a way where the smoke would not hit either myself or my baby. Bella, along with Trina’s baby Veronica, as well as my son, would all be positioned a top of the picnic table, enabling all mothers present to peer into their infants’ positioned car seats at their leisure.
Trina, who also lived in the homeless shelter with her infant daughter, Veronica and her two year old daughter Rhianna, would also join Rachelle Bond and I in conversation. We often played with one another’s baby’s, and I was even blessed in briefly watching Bella while Rachelle Bond would run off to get herself a drink, a cigarette, or even something to eat inside the shelter. Yet, this informal babysitting was a group effort, because there were other mothers outside with their children too. Trina, Stephanie, Jennifer, and a hosts of other mothers, would often sit at the picnic table to not only bum cigarettes off of one another, but to talk about all things related to our living in the shelter.
I say all of that to say this: as mothers who were living in a homeless shelter that heavily dictated when we could come and go, as well as required us to routinely clean the bathrooms and the halls of the place we were temporarily housed in, we often worked together as a team to not only keep one another’s spirits up, but to keenly look after one another’s children for short periods of time, too. The bulk of us—including Rachelle Bond—had virtually no help from our children’s fathers, but we still hung in there and did the best we could under the circumstances. The situation was not a perfect one, but it was what it was at that moment in time.
Besides sitting with Rachelle Bond at the shelter’s picnic tables, Rachelle and I also had a conversation about breastfeeding prior to her giving birth to Belle. I asked her what she thought about breastfeeding, and she was all for it. “I want my baby to be smart” she told me, “…and I know breastfeeding is the best way to go. Plus, breastfeeding will help me get this baby weight off quicker!”
Because I had a hard time breastfeeding my son, Rachelle Bond gave me some informal suggestions on how to do it. She explained that having the baby latch onto you is the most important thing in breastfeeding…so important, that if a baby can do that, breastfeeding should not be a problem.
I would think back on her advice often…more so because while my son had no trouble latching onto me, I felt uncomfortable with the arrangement because I was so heavy chested. Hence, I compromised and used a pump to get my breast milk out. From there, I put it in a bottle and mixed it with formula and gave the mixture promptly to my son.
While I cared for my son, Rachelle Bond did exactly like she said she was going to do. She breastfed Bella, and began to drop that baby weight off quickly. She even began to wear clothing that emphasized her figure; this manner of dress often made men’s heads turn…more so because Rachelle Bond was not a bad looking woman.
When my son turned five weeks old, I left the shelter and lost touch with the ladies I interacted with. I hadn’t even thought about Rachelle Bond—nor Bella—until Baby Doe was positively identified as Bella Bond. Upon hearing the name on the news, a flash went through my mind. I thought to myself, “Bella? I sure hope that baby isn’t the one I knew from the shelter….”
I quickly dismissed the thought until I saw Rachelle Bond’s picture staring back at me on television. My heart dropped, and I was filled with unrepented sadness, anger and shock. I knew that Rachelle Bond was afforded every opportunity to improve her lot in life because I lived in the same homeless shelter as her; this homeless shelter was, and still is, a very good one because of its sincerity in helping families find stable and affordable housing. This shelter was also good at providing additional resources for those who were previously incarcerated, as well as for former addicts and abusers. Though the staff could be a bit overzealous at times, I firmly believe that their hearts were in the right place.
Because Rachelle Bond and I met when we were expecting our little ones, she never seemed to be this cold and calculating killer that she is painted to be in the media. Like the media, I knew about her previous incarceration-based history, but because she assured me that she was only in jail as a consequence of selling methadone, I cut her a small break. I also cut her a break because she seemed so sincere about turning her life around. She wanted to get a nice apartment and create a loving home for Bella.
Like others at the shelter, I believed her…however, because of my previous, negative experiences with former inmates and parolees, I decided to only interact with Rachelle Bond in group-based and public settings. I was never alone with her in an area that could be deemed private; we were constantly in eye’s sight of the shelter intake workers and other shelter residents. And, though all the shelter residents seemed like endearing individuals…they were not necessarily the kind of people I would hang out with if my circumstances were different. Yet, because I was in a shelter due to my own hardships, I had to make due and be cordial. I also had to pitch in when and where I was needed.
Now, as I listen to the media’s story of Rachelle Bond’s prostitution and drug-based incarceration, I wonder why the family shelter allowed individuals with these backgrounds to interact with others that may not have a history of arrest and challenges with the law. I also wonder why…after Rachelle Bond had secured an apartment, why the shelter did not insure that Bella was enrolled in Early Intervention and other community based programs that could have aided in keeping up with her and Bella’s whereabouts. Those of us that lived with her in the family shelter should have been told about her storied past, and her whereabouts should have been consistently monitored—even after she secured section 8 housing. In fact, keeping up with her and Bella was even more important because, according to news reports, Rachelle Bond’s two other children were taken from her; Rachelle Bond’s mom has custody of one of Rachelle Bond’s children, while the other child was adopted out to another family that is not even related to Rachelle Bond. Considering that her parental rights were terminated in both instances, the state should have done everything in its power to strictly monitor Rachelle Bond’s parenting skills, as well as monitor the nature of her involvement in criminal activity and drug use.
In the course of my anger at a system that would allow this to happen, I look at the photos of Bella. I knew her as an infant, and really regret that I did not keep up with Rachelle Bond and Bella once I moved out of the shelter. I feel that if I had of kept in touch with Rachelle Bond and Bella, maybe I could have helped to stop this from happening, too. After all, that baby should not have been found like that off of Deer Field Island; she should still be alive.
To read more about baby Bella and her mother from the perspective of those that lived in the homeless shelter, please take a look at this link: All About Bella Bond: The Little Girl That Was Found Dead On The Beach Was ‘Always Happy,’ Friends Say