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Judge Who Sentenced Veteran To Night In Jail Spends Night With Him After Learning About His PTSD

Photo: CBS News / YouTube
veteran Joe Serna and judge Olivera

When veteran Joe Serna was arrested for drinking and driving, one of the terms of his probation was Serna could not consume alcohol for a predetermined period of time. After lying during a urine test, Serna was brought back into court with Gulf War veteran Lou Olivera as the judge for his case.

Judge Olivera sentenced Serna to a night in jail for violating his probation.

Throughout Serna's time in the courts, the judge learned details about Serna's military history. CBS News reported that Serna had served three terms in Afghanistan with two purple hearts for his bravery. He’d also survived an IED and suicide bomber, and notably was the only survivor after being trapped in a sinking truck with other soldiers.

Considering his many brushes with death and traumatizing experience fighting in the war, Serna suffered from PTSD and claustrophobia, which he blamed on the sinking truck.

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When the judge learned about Serna's PTSD and claustrophobia, he decided to spend the night with him in jail.

Olivera, a district judge who presides over the Veterans Treatment Court in Cumberland County, North Carolina, was sympathetic towards Serna and decided to show him some kindness.

“I knew what Joe was going through and I knew Joe’s history,” Judge Olivera told CBS Evening News. “I knew he had to be held accountable, but I just knew…I had to go with him.”

It had just been a few minutes of Serna sitting in his jail cell before Judge Olivera surprised him with a loaf of homemade meatloaf and a change of clothes, accompanying him through the remainder of the night.

Serna said that once Judge Olivera came, “the walls were no longer there” as the two men talked about their families and their lives.

“He took me back to North Carolina,” Serna said. “He took me from a truck in Afghanistan back to North Carolina.”

After the night was over, Serna promised Judge Olivera that this would be the last incident that brought him back to court.

“He is a judge, but that night, he was my battle buddy,” Serna told People magazine. “He knew what I was going through. As a warrior, he connected.”

Serna had gone into battles repeatedly, and each deployment brought equal amounts of pain and glory.

“I lost so many friends,” Serna recalled. “I was medevaced [medically evacuated] after some guy dropped a grenade on me. In the process, I lost a bunch of guys right next to me.”

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Many veterans fall into drug-related crimes after they leave the military.

According to a report by the Bureau of Justice Studies, an estimated 107,400 veterans were serving time in federal or state prisons with the majority, 98%, being males. A study done on veterans’ pathways to incarceration found that substance abuse is common among those in prison.

Veterans reported that their substance abuse use stemmed from after-effects of their time serving in the military, such as PTSD, difficulty adjusting to civilian life, and relational stress with friends and family.

“Physically, I was taking care of myself,” Serna said, remembering the time when he was medically retired. “I didn’t think about the mental.”

“Everybody is human,” Olivera explained. “People make mistakes.”

Serna is forever grateful for Judge Olivera for extending an act of kindness and making sure he was going to be okay.

“I can’t even begin to describe the humanity,” Serna said. “Judge Olivera is an amazing man.”

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Nia Tipton is a Chicago-based entertainment, news, and lifestyle writer whose work delves into modern-day issues and experiences.