April 2, 2005 — the day Pope John Paul II passed away — was the day singer and SA’s Got Talent finalist Bernadette Adams got a second chance in life.
The 45-year-old had been a drug mule, travelled to Italy, and was arrested at an airport when authorities found 1.5kg of cocaine in her luggage.
The Manenberg mom of three was sentenced to four years in the Casa Circondarial Carcere Milano all-female prison in Milan.
Yesterday, in part one of her interview with the Daily Voice, the single mom explained how, out of desperation, she became an international “courier” for her restaurant boss.
Eighteen months into her sentence, the death of the Catholic leader handed her a lifeline.
Bernadette received the “Gift of Years”, a reduction in sentence given to certain criminals in the Italian prison system — a pardon granted upon the death of the Pope.
“I was in prison for a year and a half and then this lawyer came to tell me that with the death of the Pope, my sentence was reduced and I was free to go,” says Bernadette.
With tears streaming down her cheeks, the mom recalled her relief at being able to return home to her mother and her children.
Bernadette says: “I do consider myself lucky that the Pope died, but then I also believe he died for me, so that I could come home.”
It was then that she was faced with another challenge, and that was getting home to the Kaap.
“The Little Sisters of Jesus is a group of nuns who work in Italy and in Manenberg and they helped me. Because all they do in Italy is open the prison doors and tell you goodbye,” she says.
“They took my papers and there was an Italian priest that helped me as well, and that’s how I got home.”
But when she returned to her children and mother, she struggled to find a job because of her criminal past.
“I worked with school children for about three years and then that ended and I was unemployed again,” she adds.
Another life-changing moment came when the priest at her church told her about a project for offenders inside and outside prison.
Bernadette grabbed the opportunity and little did she know it would be where she’d find her voice again.
“It was a family and offender mediation day, where families get to speak about how they feel about someone’s crimes and imprisonment.
“The day started with praise and worship and that is when I started singing again for the first time, in 2010,” she says.
Bernadette, her daughter and her friend had auditioned as a singing group for SA’s Got Talent in 2014, but didn’t make it past the auditions.
Then, at the beginning of this year, a colleague entered her into the TV talent show again.
“I remember on the form, they asked if you have any secrets to share, and I wrote that I had been in prison, and for me it was a chance to really put this all behind me,” she says.
For her audition at the e.tv studios, she rocked Tina Turner’s Simply The Best — and she got a call-back.
She then went on to the Baxter Theatre auditions, where she performed another Tina song, We Don’t Need Another Hero.
Now that she’s made it to the finals of the reality show Bernadette, stage name Phoenix, says the outcome is actually not something she’s too stressed about.
“My vision is that I’ve won already, even though the final prize hasn’t been handed out yet.”
But if she does win the R500 000 prize, she says she’ll leave her Manenberg council flat behind and buy a new house.
With her children all grow up and starting their own families, Bernadette says being a good role model is important.
“This is about me also leaving a good legacy for them and I can do that with music. Singing is the best way for me to speak from the heart and that’s why I don’t just sing anything. I want to connect with every song,” she says.
“Phoenix” will be on stage at the SA’s Got Talent finals on Sunday, November 6, at 6.05 pm on e.tv.