Judge Spends a Night in Jail to Help The Man He Sentenced

Lou Oliveira and Joseph Serna

Sometimes, a little kindness is all we need to get nudged back in the right direction, and Judge Lou Olivera has given us a big lesson on how to do just that.

Former Special Forces soldier Joseph Serna has been trying to be sober. He has appeared before Judge Olivera 25 times, and getting caught lying about his urine test was the final drop for someone who was on probation. District Judge Lou Olivera, who runs the Cumberland County’s Veterans Treatment Court, had no other choice than to ordered Serna 24 hours behind bars.

Sgt. Joseph Serna

Serna was brought to the jail in Robeson County. Minutes after the cell door closed behind him, his anxiety kicked in. Veteran Joe Serna suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD, a condition common among formerly enlisted men especially those who have suffered a traumatic, shocking or dangerous event. Experiences that Serna had plenty of.

Joe Serna had gone on four combat tours to Afghanistan, but there was one incident in particular that he keeps having nightmares about. He recounts being in a truck following the creek with three of his comrades when all of a sudden, the road gave way. The truck sunk into the water and before Serna could react, the water was up to his chin. He came out as the sole survivor of the grim incident.

Back at his cramped cell, Serna is reminded of his fear of being enclosed in small spaces. In his mind, it was like being back in Afghanistan.

Sgt. Serna was sitting in his cell when he noticed the door opening and to his shock, Judge Olivera came walking in. Before Serna could react, the door closed behind the judge and it dawned on him that the judge will be sharing his sentence with him.

Judge Lou Oliveira

The dreadful night for Serna eventually became his first few steps towards getting his life back together. Serna recalls that the jail time he spent with the compassionate judge was spent mostly talking about their families and military service.

The compassionate judge would later mention in an interview that he just had the gut feeling that he had to go and stay with Serna. Judge Oliveira served in the Gulf War and understood well what Serna was going through. “They have worn the uniform and we know they can be contributing members of society. We just want to get them back there,” said Olivera.

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