Changing Lives: The Honorable Darlene Byrne

For the past seven years, Austin Classical Guitar has offered daily guitar classes for incarcerated young people at the Gardner Betts Juvenile Justice Center. Many of our students have at one time or another found themselves in the courtroom of The Honorable Darlene Byrne. Having spent over 15 years working with youth involved in the Juvenile Justice and Foster Care Systems, Judge Byrne offers a unique and insightful perspective on ACG’s work with these talented students who happen to have troubled pasts.


What was your initial thought about a classical guitar program at Gardner Betts?

That it’s unique, innovative, and a win-win for the students and the facility. It’s not a program I would have ever imagined thriving in a detention center, but it’s become a wonderful enrichment experience that allows these young men to define themselves other than as someone who has broken the law. Learning music can reveal the unique, and often hidden, talents these kids have. It’s more than music. It’s mentorship, and the relationship the instructor has with the students.

“Austin Classical Guitar uses a beautiful art form to crack through the hard exterior of some of our community’s toughest young people and inspire in them a sense of beauty, passion, and self-respect.”

 

What kind of impact do you think the guitar program has on the students at Gardner Betts?

As a judge, I routinely see young people in my courtroom who suffer from the effects of abuse, neglect, poverty, mental illness, and addiction. These youth often develop a hard exterior and are not easily reached by individuals in the community who want to engage them in a positive activity. Austin Classical Guitar uses a beautiful art form to crack through the hard exterior of some of our community’s toughest young people and inspire in them a sense of beauty, passion, and self-respect. For some students this may be the first opportunity they’ve had to express themselves and their emotions.

Most of the young people at Gardner Betts are one, two, or three years behind in their education, and this becomes something they are self-conscious about. Because of this, many learn not to like school, and feel embarrassed if they don’t know something. But the great thing about the guitar program is that all the students are starting from the same place. They’re learning the language of music together. Regrettably, I think many of these students have been taught to view messing up as a failure. ACG takes those messy moments, like when a student might be having trouble with a passage of music, and turns them into moments of enlightenment, discovery, and learning.

Do you have a favorite memory of the guitar students at Gardner Betts?

One of the most beautiful experiences I have had with the program was seeing one of the young men perform a solo in front of a live audience while at the same time displaying a paper and tape, life size, three dimensional rendering of a guitar he had built. It is a remarkable piece of art and an expression of what this program can inspire within some of these young folks. This young man took it upon himself to create this piece of art for his instructors while his classes were on pause for the summer. It was a testament to how much passion the program had inspired in his heart.

If you are inspired by Austin Classical Guitar’s work with young people in the Juvenile Justice System, please consider making a donation to support our work today.