This story is part of our ACG Fall Fund Drive Changing Lives Storyboard. Consider supporting ACG today!

People streamed through the door, gathering in the front lobby and chatting excitedly. The metal detectors, unnecessary for this occasion, had been moved to the side. There was a note of celebration in the air despite the inauspicious location: Gardner Betts Juvenile Justice Center.

Friends, families, and members of the community had all assembled to see three young men, three adolescents incarcerated there, perform a guitar concert.

Jeremy and his former student, now colleague, Javier

For the past few months, these students had worked with Jeremy Osborne, ACG Assistant Director of Education, and Javier Saucedo, an Akins High School guitar alum, in the only for-credit arts class offered at Gardner Betts.

James German, a Residential Treatment Officer Lead, has been at Gardner Betts for almost 15 years, and witnessed the beginning of our Juvenile Justice guitar program there eight years ago. He said most students have never played guitar before taking the class.

Some of them don’t want to play at first. But once they start learning it, they want to do it all the time. They ask, ‘Can I have my guitar?’ and practice in their units. It really makes them focus on better behavior, because they want to play the guitar, they want to be part of these performances, they want their family to come and see them. ”

The musicians were already seated onstage as the audience filed in to take their seats. A courtroom is an unusual concert venue: a short wooden barrier divides the performers from the crowd. The guitarists were in a small arc near the podium, not to face charges before a judge, but to share music with a warm audience of family and friends. The podium, as they began to play, was completely forgotten.

The audience witnessed a transformation during the performance, a transformation of three somber young teens into three focused musicians striving for beautiful tone and rhythmic precision.

Enraptured with the guitarists’ poise and musicality, the audience listened thoughtfully as the students played together. After the first soloist performed and took a bow, the musician in the center of the arc broke his serious expression to share with him a wide grin.

“It’s a peaceful thing for the kids, it makes them feel better about themselves, because they’re accomplishing something, something they never thought in their wildest imagination they’d be doing. It’s so positive,” James said.

After the students finished the final piece on their program, the audience stood up by twos and threes to give them a wholehearted standing ovation. The students couldn’t help but smile humbly, looking around with surprise at their enthusiastic fans.

“Now that they see themselves play guitar, now maybe it makes them see themselves as musicians, artists.”

In the lobby, audience members had the opportunity to write letters of congratulations and encouragement to the musicians. Soon, there was a basket full of notes for them.

The guitarists, after talking with amazed friends and families, enjoyed a celebratory pizza with their proud teachers.