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To Help Vet With PTSD, Judge Serves Sentence With Him

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By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on April 26, 2016 11:59 AM

Here's a story to pull at your heart strings. A North Carolina judge recently made headlines after he sent a Special Forces veteran to jail for parole violations -- then joined him in the cell to serve the full sentence alongside him.

Joseph Serna did three combat tours in Afghanistan before returning home with post-traumatic stress disorder. Soon after his return, he was charged with a DWI and found himself in District Court Judge Lou Olivera's court. When Judge Olivera, himself a veteran of the Gulf War, later sentenced Serna for parole violations, he worried that a night alone in a cell would trigger the soldier's PTSD, so he arranged to serve the sentence with him.

Some Good News From North Carolina

After Joseph Serna returned from Afghanistan, he turned to alcohol to help him deal with his PTSD, according to the Huffington Post. That lead to his DWI charge and eventual parole violation.

As part of his treatment program, Serna was required to undergo a urinalysis test every two weeks. When his test came back positive, Olivera sentenced him to a night in lockup.

The judge had hoped to have Serna spend his time at the Fayetteville Police Department's holding cell, but soon found that Serna would have to spend the night in a one-man cell.

"When Joe first came to turn himself in, he was trembling," Olivera told the Fayetteville Observer. "I decided that I'd spend the night serving with him."

In an interview with WTVD, Serna described the experience: "[Olivera] comes in, they close the door and lock it. This was a one-man cell so we sat on the bunk and I said 'you are here for the entire time with me?' he said, 'yeah that's what I am doing.'"

The two spent the night discussing their families, their military service, Serna's PTSD, and how Serna could recover from his struggles.

An Act of Solidarity

Judge Olivera told the Observer that his decision was inspired by a story he once read:

It talked about a soldier with PTSD in a hole. A family member, a therapist and a friend all throw down a rope to help the veteran suffering. Finally, a fellow veteran climbs into the hole with him.

The soldier suffering with PTSD asks, "Why are you down here?" The fellow veteran replied, "I am here to climb out with you."

"After serving in the Gulf War and seeing many suffer from injuries in service," the judge explained, "I thought about that story when Joe walked in shaking. I do know that many veterans would have done the same. They would have gotten in the hole to help. And so did I."

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