A prison is the last place one would associate with holiday cheer. But for the past four Decembers, Maryann Burns and her church choir have helped the inmates at the Coffee Creek Correctional Institute in Wilsonville, Ore., ring in the Christmas season with a choral performance.
“It’s the most awesome experience,” said Burns, the Director of Business Intelligence and Field Applications for Knowledge Universe’s IT department. “You see people in a different light.”
The inmates at Coffee Creek – all women – host an annual Christmas choral performance for each other, bringing a little bit of the outside world into the prison for one December Sunday afternoon. Burns said the inmates are supportive of each other, especially their peers who are nervous about performing.
She sees a connection between her work at KU and the inmates she volunteers with each December.
“These prisoners made a series of poor choices,” she said. “They lacked education. Education helps people learn to make good choices.”
For herself, Burns said the opportunity to share a common experience with people she wouldn’t interact with in her everyday life reminds her to separate the action from the person, to remember that everyone has some good in them.
“Even inside those walls there’s goodness,” she said. “To see, to experience goodness in a place where you wouldn’t expect to see it is amazing.”