Judge Lou Olivera is a Gulf War Veteran himself, so when war veteran Sgt. Joseph Serna appeared before him and admitted to lying about a previous urine test, he saw an opportunity for compassion.
Serna suffers from a severe case of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and as a result, has become an alcoholic. The failed urine test violated his parole and Judge Olivera sentenced him to 24 hours in jail.
Serna is a husband, and father of seven children. Here, he describes his battle with alcohol:
“I started to drink when I was mad. When I was regretting things, I would drink. Luckily, I didn’t hurt anyone. There was a point where that became a pattern. When I hit this black ice in my home, it was nobody understood. My wife and my kids were there, but they didn’t understand. They could see the anger, the solid cold face when I would walk by them. They knew there something definitely wrong with me.”
The forty-one year old Sgt. Serna served close to two decades in the armed forces which included four tours in Afghanistan. It was there where he became the sole survivor of a vehicle accident in which three of his fellow soldiers died when their armored truck rolled off a makeshift road and into a deep canal. Beyond that traumatic experience, he also survived a roadside bombing and an attack by a suicide bomber.
As many do, he struggled with the return from battle and found refuge in a bottle. Concerned that a night alone in a cell could potentially worsen Serna’s PTSD, Judge Olivera took an incredible route of compassion. He commented,
“When Joe first came to turn himself in, he was trembling. I decided I’d spend the night serving with him.”
He went on to say that the experience included a personal “father-son” like conversation. Serna described it this way,
“It was the purest father figure conversation. It was like I was the son and he was the father telling me how I needed to do things better and I was listening because of the sacrifice he was making for me, when he didn’t have to do it at all. My agreement to him is that I will never disappoint him.”
In regard to seeing veterans in his courtroom, the judge commented,
“They have worn the uniform and we know they can be contributing members of society. We just want to get them back there.”
My hat’s off to this judge. We need more like him. The actions of the justice system are no match for love and compassion. Join me in lifting Sgt. Serna in prayer for healing.