StoryCorps: In A Jail Sentence, A Veteran's Redemption — With Help From A Fellow Vet Two veterans met in court last year: a man who violated his probation and the judge who sentenced him. But it was the judge's decision to visit his fellow veteran's cell that changed them both.
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In A Jail Sentence, A Veteran's Redemption — With Help From A Fellow Vet

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In A Jail Sentence, A Veteran's Redemption — With Help From A Fellow Vet

In A Jail Sentence, A Veteran's Redemption — With Help From A Fellow Vet

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

It's Friday, which is when we hear from StoryCorps. And today, we hear two veterans who met in a North Carolina courtroom, and we hear about the bond they've formed.

Joe Serna served three tours in Afghanistan as a Green Beret. After retiring, he struggled to adapt to life back home, and he violated probation on a DWI charge and came before Judge Lou Olivera, an Army veteran. Judge Olivera sentenced Serna to one night in jail for violating his probation. Serna sat down with that judge for StoryCorps to talk about how his night in a jail cell brought back memories of war.

JOE SERNA: In Afghanistan, it was me and three other guys on the truck, really good friends. And I had an accident where our truck flipped all the way over into a river. And water came in and rose from the ankles to my waist, eventually to my chin. And it was pitch black. The only air we had was now filled with diesel fumes. My partner said, I can't feel my lips. I can't feel my arms. Then I heard him gasping.

And I was the only survivor, so I would have relived it over and over and over again in this cell by myself. It was confined space, no windows and the door was solid. And there was just a small piece of glass you can see in and out, and that was it. But I heard the door rattle. The jailer opens it up, and I see you coming in.

LOU OLIVERA: You were sweating. You were shaking. You were wound tight.

SERNA: When you walked in, that all went away. And then when they locked the door, I said to myself, he's going to spend the night here. I've never seen this kind of act from anyone.

OLIVERA: I knew your history, and I talked to the chief jailer. I said, can you put me in a cell with him? He was a veteran himself. He looked at me, and he goes, Judge, give me five minutes. And he made it work.

SERNA: We had a long conversation. A lot of it was about our families. And I felt the compassion.

OLIVERA: We all mess up. We all fall short - and sometimes not the best husband or the best father or the best judge.

SERNA: Truthfully, that was the first time I ever opened up to trust another person. It was a game-changer. So thank you for being there for me. It means a lot to have someone in your position that understands.

OLIVERA: That's that brotherhood, the military. And I get something out of it, too - helps me think about the things I've gone through, the things I've seen in my military life. You're a brother, and I want you to give back.

SERNA: Well, I thank you, Judge.

OLIVERA: You know I love you, man.

SERNA: I love you, too.

INSKEEP: Retired Green Beret Joe Serna talking with judge and retired Army military intelligence officer Lou Olivera. They spoke in Fayetteville, N.C. And their conversation is part of Who We Are, a series of StoryCorps conversations highlighting the values that make us American.

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