Judge Spends Night in Jail with Veteran

Our military service members see atrocities that most of us, as civilians, cannot begin to imagine. Inevitably, many of them return home with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). PTSD is common among veterans but can affect anyone who has suffered through a traumatic event such as a natural disaster, assault, or terrorist attack.

Individuals with PTSD often suffer from flashbacks, insomnia, anxiety, irritability, and emotional numbness and avoidance. Although most eventually recover treatment can be difficult and they may suffer from severe depression and anxiety for months, or even years.

After two decades in military service, Sgt. Joseph Serna, a former Special Forces soldier, has struggled to leave the wars behind. He served in four tours of combat in Afghanistan and nearly died three times. When the armored vehicle Serna and three other soldiers were in exploded from an IED and fell into a canal, Serna was the only survivor.

Serna was a decorated Green Beret and earned three purple hearts during his service, but the former soldier has since struggled with his PTSD and while self medicating with alcohol was charged with driving under the influence. Serna entered the Veterans Treatment Court, headed by State District Court Judge Lou Olivera. Olivera is a veteran of the Gulf War and understands the unique challenges facing veterans.

Nevertheless after Serna appeared before Olivera 25 times to have his progress reviewed, he failed a urine test and lied about it, resulting in him being sentenced to spending one night behind bars. Judge Olivera drove Serna to the jail in the neighboring county himself, but after seeing his distress knew he could not leave him there alone.

Serna was taken to his cell and sat down to prepare for the long night ahead. He heard the cell door open once again as Olivera entered and sat down beside him.

Serna recalls, “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 judge stayed with Serna the entire night. No doubt this selfless act has made a lasting impact on Serna.