On January 12, actor Matthew McConaughey visited and spoke before the youth offenders in Judge Brandy Mueller’s Criminal Court.

Project Engage, a Travis County youth offender program, is a docket created especially for misdemeanor defendants who are 17, 18, and 19 years of age. “The teenage misdemeanor Defendant often falls within a gap that exists within our adult criminal justice system. Teenage defendants are too old to have their cases handled as juvenile offenders, yet often too young to be treated as that of an adult criminal” said Judge Mueller. “Project Engage is a supportive yet tightly structured probation, with real consequences for probation violations, but also incentives for progress,” she said.

Judge Mueller reached out to McConaughey’s foundation for youth and inner city teens, JkLivin, and McConaughey agreed to come and speak during Project Engage’s monthly docket.

The Defendants in Project Engage are considered high-risk for re-offending in that they have criminal history at a young age, often don’t have a stable residence, and have not graduated from high school. “A good number have siblings or other family members who are incarcerated, and some are former foster children who have aged-out of the foster care system.” said Project Engage defense attorney Dana Weis.

McConaughey spoke before a courtroom full of excited teens about taking the initiative and how that attitude impacted his career. Along with telling stories from movies he’s been in, he stayed on theme by reiterating how important it was for the teenagers to “take care of themselves and work hard” and “pull the weeds out” of their lives.

After the speech, McConaughey fist bumped, shook hands and walked in between the courtroom pews meeting every Defendant up close. He stayed to answer their questions and take photos. “Outside of the excitement his celebrity status brought, the meaningful part of his visit, was that what he said, resonated with our youth offenders.” said Judge Mueller.

Pictures by Becky Kittleman