A veteran of the war in Afghanistan who was suffering from PTSD had a district court judge in North Carolina Lou Olivera, make an unprecedented gesture of compassion when he decided to spend the night in jail with the vet.
Judge Lou Olivera, sentenced Green Beret Joe Serna to one night in jail for violating his probation and lying about a urine test.
“I gave Joe a night in jail because he had to be held accountable,” Olivera told CBS News.
But he knew for Serna, it would be more than just a night in jail. It would be a night of painful flashbacks and high stress.
“When I walked into the jail cell and they closed the door behind me, I started feeling this anxiety,” Serna said. “It came back – a flashback.”
Serna is a retired Army Sargent First Class who did three tours in Afghanistan. He had a lot of harrowing experiences, but he says the worst came when a truck he and some fellow soldiers were riding in fell into a creek and he lost his crew, and he was the accident’s only survivor.
After arrivig back home, Serna had both physical and psychological scars.
“Physically, I was taking care of myself. I didn’t think about the mental,” he said, adding: “I was having issues, and would feed that with alcohol. I thought I was going down the right path. I didn’t know I was going the wrong way.”
And this path is what landed him in Judge Olivera’s courtroom. He had a few alcohol-related charges.
While the Judge empathized with Serna’s situation, he knew he couldn’t let him get away with violating his probation. So he made a surprising compromise.
After personally driving Serna to the jail, Olivera spoke to the jailer about his wish to spend the night with the man he’d just sentenced.
The jailer granted him permission and Minutes later, Olivera was walking into Serna’s cell. The jailer brought in some mats so that the judge could sleep on the ground.
Serna confused asked the judge what he was doing.
“He said, ‘We’re in the foxhole together,’” Serna recalled.
“I was at peace” the former soldier said. “When he came in, I knew everything was going to be OK.”
They passed the time discussing their careers in the military and their families.
“I’m a judge and I’ve seen evil, but I see the humanity in people,” Olivera said. “Joe is a good man. Helping him helped me. I wanted him to know he isn’t alone.”
Sources: CBS News