Judge sentences vet to jail, then goes with him

Here’s your daily dose of bittersweetness:

There should be an alternative for a veteran with PTSD than a cell. But when Joe Serna, 41, a former Special Forces member who has been awarded three Purple Hearts, appeared in a court, North Carolina District Court Judge Lou Olivera didn’t have a lot of choice when Serna admitted he lied about a recent urine test. He sentenced him to a day in jail.

Serna has fought to stay sober because of his post traumatic stress disorder.

Why would a guy have PTSD? Consider this story from the Washington Post:

During a tour in 2008, Serna and three other soldiers were driving down a narrow dirt road in Kandahar when their armored truck toppled into a canal, the Associated Press reported. As water filled the vehicle, Serna struggled to escape.

It was his fellow soldier, Sgt. James Treber, who saved him.

“I felt a hand come down and unfasten my seat belt and release my body armor,” Serna recalled to the AP. “Sgt. Treber picked me up and moved me to a small pocket of air. He knew there was not enough room for both of us to breathe so he went under water to find another pocket of air.”

Treber died from the accident, but Serna survived. He was the only one who did.

Judge Olivera ordered Serna to a jail in a nearby county.

When Serna turned himself in, he was trembling. So Judge Olivera drove Serno to jail.

And then he spent the night in the cell with him, the Fayette Observer reports.

“Where are we going, judge?” Serna asked.

“We’re going to turn ourselves in,” Olivera said.

“He said he was going to stay with me,” Serna said. “I couldn’t process a judge being my cellmate.

“They take me to the cell, and I’m sitting on my bunk. And, then, in walks the judge.

“I knew this was a very compassionate man,” Serna says. “I know how involved he is with veterans, and he’s a veteran himself. I got chills when he walked in.”

The cell, Serna says, had one bunk, and a jailer brought in three mattresses.

“He gave me the bunk,” Serna says about the 45-year-old judge. “The judge took two of the mats and slept on the floor.”

From 5 in the afternoon to sunup the next morning, the two talked.

Then the judge took him home and brought doughnuts for his family.

“I thought about a story that I once read,” Olivera says. “It talked about a soldier with PTSD in a hole,” he says. “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 says, “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.”

(h/t: John Olson)