Troubled Vet Sentence to Night in Jail – Judge Does the Unexpected
Green Beret vet, Joe Serna, served in many battles in the Afghanistan conflict. Suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Joe often turned to substance abuse to relieve the emotional and mental torment.
Joe wasn’t your average veteran returning from conflict. A recipient of not one, but three Purple Hearts, Serna retired from the military and struggles to adjust back to life Stateside.
Alcohol became Serna’s coping mechanism, but soon it ruled his life. A destructive cycle of alcoholism led him to seek treatment at the Veterans’ Treatment Court, which focuses on reacclimating vets to post-war life.
This is where Serna met North Carolina judge Lou Olivera of Cumberland County. A retired Gulf War vet, Judge Olivera worked with men like Serna inside the Veterans’ Treatment Court. Part of the program, regular urine tests help vets stay accountable as they seek treatment and learn new life skills.
When Serna failed a test, Judge Olivera knew Serna must face the consequences of his choices, and sentenced him to a night in jail, but he did not let him do so alone.
Judge Olivera remembered his personal struggles when he returned to private life after the military. Moved by compassion for Serna’s struggles, the judge joined Joe in his jail cell overnight.
“Joe was a good soldier, and he’s a good man,” Olivera said, “I wanted him to know I had his back. I didn’t want him to do this alone.”
That night – as Serna’s mind flashed back to battles, tragedies, and roadside nightmares, Olivera’s presence rooted him back to the present. Thanks to Judge Olivera, Serna said he was at peace throughout the night.
In the space of a few hours, Serna found a battle buddy in Judge Olivera. They spoke of their families, service, and lives. Olivera understood the personal struggles of a fellow soldier and made a difference surprisingly.
Matthew 25:37-40 NKJV
“Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did It to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’