What would make a prominent judge spend the night in jail with a man he hardly knew? The only answer to that is a compassionate heart for those who have served and served well…but have problems.
Sgt. Joseph Serna of North Carolina was a Green Beret. He had four combat tours in Afghanistan as a Special Forces soldier. His army career had stretched over two decades. Because of a roadside bomb and a suicide bomber, he almost lost his life three different times. In Kandahar, his armored truck careened into a canal and his fellow soldier, Sgt. James Treber, saved him.
“I felt a hand come down and unfasten my seat belt and release my body armor,” Serna recalled. “Sgt. Treber picked me up and moved me to a small pocket of air. He knew there was not enough room for both of us to breathe so he went under water to find another pocket of air.” Unfortunately, Sgt. Treber died and Serna survived.
Sgt. Serna earned three Purple Hearts, but returned home suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. This led him to drinking to excess and was picked up for driving while intoxicated.
This event landed him in the Cumberland County, N.C. court of Judge Lou Olivera. The Judge spent numerous times with Serna to evaluate his progress with these problems. Finally after being untruthful about one of his tests, the Judge sentenced him to a day in jail.
The next part is why I am writing this blog because there could be numerous writings on the problems that our Veterans have with stress after serving their country. Here enters the Judge and his compassion for this young soldier. Judge Olivera drives Serna to the jail.
“Where are we going?” Serna asked the Judge. The reply was, “We are going to turn ourselves in.” What Serna did not know was Judge Olivera had decided that this prisoner would not spend the night or 24 hours alone. He decided to spend the sentence with the prisoner. Judge Olivera is also a veteran of the Gulf War and he was so concerned about Serna that he did not want the isolation to trigger Serna’s PTSD.
As Serna sat down on the cot in his cell, he heard the door rattle open again and saw Judge Olivera standing before him. Olivera sat down beside him. Someone came and locked the door. This was a one-man cell so we sat on the bunk and I said, ‘You are here for the entire time with me?’” Sgt. Serna said. “He said, ‘Yeah that’s what I am doing.’”
“They have worn the uniform and we know they can be contributing members of society,” Olivera said. “We just want to get them back there.”
(Taken in part from an article by Yanet Yang of the Washington Post)
If you or someone you know has these symptoms along with alcohol or drug abuse, seek medical help immediately. The sooner the help, the better the results.