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Women in prison find freedom in music

Choir director Crystal Akins leads women in song at Coffee Creek Correctional Facility in Wilsonville.

With shows like "Orange is the New Black," women's prisons have become a staple of pop culture news, but what it's really like behind bars rarely makes it outside of prison walls.

For 60 minutes every Sunday the lives of 35 women at the Coffee Creek Correctional Facility become more about keeping time than serving time by signing in the prison's choir.

"(It's) almost like you're walking out the gate, really," said inmate Caryssa Hamilton. "You're not in here anymore, you're now doing something."

For choir director Crystal Akins it's been five years in the making.

"I wrote many proposals and approached many different avenues and program directors," she said.

The No's began to feel like a familiar melody and her song started to fade, but then inspiration from an inmate prompted her to keep up the fight.

"We did a concert over at medium," said Akins, "and one of the women in the audience came to me and said, 'My daughter stopped singing once I came to prison, and she always sang and loved singing. And I want her to sing again. Do you think she'd sing, if I would sing?' And that's when I said I have to keep trying."

Akins' long-term goal for the choir is to help the women sing with their children. She is working with the prison to get it approved, because research shows women are less likely to reoffend if they connect with their kids through music.

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