NC veteran talks of spending night in jail with judge who sentenced him

Joe Serna, who was sentenced to a night in jail. WNCN photo

FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. (WNCN) — Joe Serna, 41, says he’s been isolated before, so when Judge Lou Olivera decided to stay with him inside his cell Serna was relieved.

Olivera sentenced Serna to one day in jail after he violated probation two weeks ago.

Judge Lou Olivera
Judge Lou Olivera

But then a remarkable thing happened. Olivera told Serna they would serve that jail sentence together.

They both rode to the corrections facility in Lumberton and for 12 hours talked about family, military service and personal goals.

Serna served three tours in Afghanistan and developed PTSD after a violent incident during a tour.

Serna said “there was an incident when I was in Afghanistan. I was in a truck. It was like a can. It was really isolated and it rolled into a river. We were locked in the river for 45 minutes. By the time they recovered the vehicle, I was the sole survivor. Everyone passed away. So being in this room was isolation for me. That would have really done something on my mental state.”

Cumberland County’s Veteran Treatment Court was created in November of last year.

Tuesday was their first graduation ceremony and both Serna and Olivera were there and reunited for the event.

The program provides counseling and mentors for veterans convicted of non-violent crimes.

Olivera, a Gulf War veteran, said “it was the best experience we could make of the situation and I’m glad we did it together.”

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