When veteran Joe Serna was arrested for drunk driving, one of the conditions of his probation was that Serna could not consume alcohol for a set period of time. After lying on a urine test, Serna was brought back to court, with Gulf War veteran Lou Olivera as the judge for his case.
Judge Olivera sentenced Serna to one night in jail for violating his probation.
During Serna’s time in court, the judge learned details about Serna’s military history. CBS News reported that Serna served three terms in Afghanistan and was awarded two Purple Hearts for his bravery. He had also survived an IED and suicide bomber and was notably the sole survivor after being trapped in a sinking truck along with other soldiers.
Given his many encounters with death and traumatizing wartime experiences, Serna suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and claustrophobia, which he attributed to the sinking truck.
When the judge learned of Serna’s post-traumatic stress disorder 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, felt sorry for Serna and decided to show him some kindness.
“I knew what Joe was going through and I knew Joe’s story,” 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 only took a few minutes for Serna to sit in his jail cell when Judge Olivera surprised him with a loaf of homemade meatloaf and a change of clothes and accompanied him the rest of the night.
Serna said that when Judge Olivera came, “the walls weren’t there anymore” as the two men talked about their families and their lives.
“He brought 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 final incident that brought him back to court.
“He’s a judge, but that night he was my fighting buddy,” Serna told People magazine. “He knew what I was going through. He made contacts as a warrior.”
Serna had fought repeated battles, and each engagement brought equal amounts of pain and glory.
“I lost so many friends,” Serna recalled. “I received medical attention [medically evacuated] after a guy dropped a grenade on me. I lost a lot of people right next to me.”
Many veterans become involved in drug crimes after leaving the military.
According to a Bureau of Justice Studies report, an estimated 107,400 veterans were in federal or state prisons, with the majority, 98%, being men. A study of veterans’ journeys to incarceration found that substance abuse is widespread among prison inmates.
Veterans reported that their substance abuse was due to after-effects of their military service, such as: E.g., post-traumatic stress disorder, difficulty adjusting to civilian life, and relationship stress with friends and family.
“Physically, I took care of myself,” Serna said, recalling the time when he was medically retired. “I didn’t think about the mental.”
“Everyone is human,” Olivera explained. “People make mistakes.”
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Serna is forever grateful to Judge Olivera for showing an act of kindness and making sure he would be okay.
“I can’t even begin to describe the humanity,” Serna said. “Judge Olivera is an amazing man.”
Nia Tipton is a Chicago-based entertainment, news and lifestyle writer whose work explores contemporary issues and experiences.
Source : www.yourtango.com