April 23, 2016

In one of those truly heartwarming stories that makes us all tear up a little bit, here is the story of a judge in North Carolina going above and beyond for one of the offenders who came before him.

The offender was Sergeant Joseph Serna, a former Special Forces soldier in the U.S. Army who served nearly 20 years. During that time he was nearly killed three times, the Washington Post reports. Even though he earned three purple hearts and is truly grateful to be alive, he has never fully recovered from the trauma of his time in service. Consequently, he has been battling PTSD, an all too common diagnosis for those who have served in combat. To fight his demons he has turned to alcohol, which has led to a charge of driving under the influence.

He was fortunate enough to enter what is called the "veteran’s treatment court program" in North Carolina. Serna has appeared before Judge Lou Olivera over 25 times and has managed to stay sober for that entire duration.

But last week Serna admitted to have tampered with his urine screen. Consequently, Judge Olivera sentenced him to one day in jail. The Judge did something unusual, though. He offered to drive Serna to jail personally.

Olivera told the Fayetteville Observer the conversation between Serna and Olivera went as follows:

Olivera: “When Joe first came to turn himself in, he was trembling. I decided that I’d spend the night serving with him.”

Serna asked him: “Where are we going, judge?”

Olivera told him: “We’re going to turn ourselves in.”

And that is exactly what happened. Serna turned himself in and the Judge sat right down next to him in the cell. The two vets spent the night talking. Oh, I forgot to mention that Olivera himself was a Gulf War veteran and recognized the danger in leaving a veteran with PTSD alone in a cell could cause. His compassion for another human being superseded his desire to be a Judge handing down a punishment.

We may never know what was talked about in that cell, but the compassion that Judge Olivera showed for a fellow veteran in need is something that should be a model to us all. Everyone is fighting a battle, even if you can't see it. This Judge stepped well above and beyond his duty as a Judge.

Excellent work, your Honor.

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