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Compassionate Judge Sentences Veteran to 24 Hours in Jail, Then Joins Him behind Bars


(Photos: Fayetteville Observer)

Sgt. Joseph Serna of the US Army Special Forces served 3 combat tours in Afghanistan. He had a very rough time there, experiencing the full horrors of war.

When Serna got out of the Army, he took those horrors with him.

Serna was arrested and charged with driving under the influence in Fayetteville, North Carolina. He got probation and entered a treatment program. He had to regularly report to the court on his treatment. During one of those court appearances, he confessed to Judge Lou Olivera that he had lied about a recent urine test.

Judge Olivera was himself a veteran, having served during the Gulf War. He understood that though Serna had broken the law, he was not a criminal by nature.

But he had to do his duty, so Judge Olivera sentenced Serna to spent 24 hours in jail. Then he took off his robe and joined Serna in his cell for the full 24 hours. The Fayetteville Observer reports:

"Where are we going, judge?" Serna asked.

"We're going to turn ourselves in," Olivera said.

"He said he was going to stay with me," Serna said. "I couldn't process a judge being my cellmate.

"They take me to the cell, and I'm sitting on my bunk. And, then, in walks the judge.

And then the two veterans talked:

Mostly, from five in the afternoon on April 13 until 6:30 a.m. the next day, the judge and the veteran talked about their respective military service, Serna's post-traumatic stress disorder from three tours of duty in Afghanistan and how the inmate could turn around his downward spiral that had resulted in a driving-while-impaired charge and other serious traffic offenses. […]

"We talked for hours about our families and our military service," Olivera says. "Our dreams for us and our families, and the road to take us there."

The judge wanted to help Serna climb out of the hole:

"I thought about a story that I once read," Olivera says. "It talked about a soldier with PTSD in a hole," he says. "A family member, a therapist and a friend all throw down a rope to help the veteran suffering. Finally, a fellow veteran climbs into the hole with him.

"The soldier suffering with PTSD asks, 'Why are you down here?' The fellow veteran replied, 'I am here to climb out with you.'

-via Glenn Reynolds


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