Guitar & Juvenile Justice: a student perspective

Begun in 2010 in partnership with Austin Independent School District and Travis County, ACG developed the only for-credit arts class offered to young people incarcerated at the Gardner Betts Juvenile Justice Center. The impact of these classes has drawn national attention, including coverage on PBS NewsHour. Most recently, the Travis County Juvenile Probation Department has asked that ACG expand this program to begin serving Austin students who are currently on probation.

A couple of weeks ago, we sat down with several of ACG’s students at Gardner Betts to ask them about their experience with guitar. We’d like to share one young man’s perspective:

My mom cried she was so happy after my first guitar concert.

I hadn’t even told her that I was learning to play. For that first performance, I just told her to come to the courthouse, that there was something going on and she needed to be there. When she showed up and there was a concert, and I played, she was amazed, and just kept crying.

I already finished my fine arts credit, but I decided to stay in guitar. I just like it. It keeps me busy, keeps me out of trouble and makes me feel grounded. It calms me down when I’m feeling angry or upset, for real. When I start playing, my mind slows down and pretty soon I’m lost in the music and everything else goes away, like blurs, and it’s just me playing guitar.

Guitar is just interesting. I’ve even learned how to figure out songs by ear. I used to bring in a recording of a song I wanted to learn and Mr. Osborne would start showing me how to play it. One day he told me to try and figure it out myself. I didn’t think I would be able to do it, but I started trying. At first I couldn’t do anything, so Mr. Osborne showed me the first note. Then I got it, one note here and there until I had the whole thing. If I got stuck or something, he would help, but other than that, I figured it out myself.

You practice to get better, you make a little progress, but you can’t really see it happening in a big way. Then one day you’re able to play this crazy piece. When I’m about to perform, I don’t worry about messing up, I just worry about playing. I close my eyes, and just focus on the music. When I sit down to play my hands always shake, but you just gotta play, get in your zone. The audience might not like it, they don’t have to like it, as long as you like it, that’s what matters.

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 this work today.