Sgt. Joseph Serna, a decorated U.S. Green Beret and three-time purple heart recipient, was sentenced to 24 hours in jail for lying about a urine test. The judge that sentenced Serna to a night in jail also ended up in jail, in the same cell as Serna in a compassionate effort.
Serna came forward, voluntarily, to let the judge know that he lied about the urine test a week earlier. But there’s a big twist to this story.
Like many veterans Serna fights a constant battle with PTSD. He escaped death not once, not twice, but three times over the course of four tours in the Middle East. His most traumatizing brush with death occurred in 2008 while Serna was traveling with three other soldiers when their armored truck toppled into a water-filled canal.
Serna would have drowned that day if it wasn’t for his partner Sgt. James Treber. Treber freed the struggling Serna from his seat while he struggled with the body armor that weighed him down. Treber then moved Serna to the only available air pocket in the quickly submerging vehicle. Knowing that the air pocket was only large enough for one person Treber selflessly went back underwater to find another air pocket. Treber perished in his search for another air pocket, leaving Serna as the only survivor of the accident.
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Serna has had an extremely difficult time returning to civilian life. His experiences in the Middle East and the psychological trauma he experienced led him to alcoholism. Serna made the decision to end his alcohol abuse after receiving a DUI. Since then Serna has fought a daily struggle to remain sober. He has appeared before judge Lou Olivera 25 times to have his progress evaluated.
Serna slipped up last week and indulged his demons. Unable to live with his mistake he came clean to Judge Olivera. He approached the judge and and came clean about lying about a urine test taken last week. In response, Olivera sentenced Serna to one night in jail.
Fortunately, this is not where the story ends. Olivera is a veteran himself, having served during the Gulf War. Olivera feared that spending a night in isolation would trigger his PTSD and make his daily struggle with alcoholism more difficult. He decided to spend the night with Serna, trading war stories and providing guidance and emotional support.
The judge states that he made his decision to spend the night with Serna before sentencing him to a night in jail. He knew that he couldn’t turn a blind-eye to Serna’s slip up but wanted to be as compassionate as possible.
“When Joe first came to turn himself in, he was trembling, “I decided that I’d spend the night serving with him.”
Serna viewed the experience as an invaluable lesson. He said he and Olivera shared father-son like experience that has inspired him to remain committed to reintegrating into society.
Have any community members in your area showed support for the troops like Judge Olivera? Share your stories in the comment section below!