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Cellmates

John Serna was arrested in North Carolina for driving while intoxicated a couple of years back. He should have gone to jail. But there was a problem.


Serna had served four combat tours in Afghanistan, nearly died at the hands of roadside and suicide bombers, and once his armored vehicle flipped over into a canal. As you might expect, Serna suffers from severe PTSD and has trauma-induced claustrophobia. Even a single night in a tiny concrete jail cell would have been a living nightmare.


So, Judge Lou Olivera came up with a solution. Serna would join a veteran’s treatment program, appear in court every two weeks, undergo rehab, and be subject to regular alcohol testing.


Serna did everything he was supposed to for the better part of a year. But at his 26th court appearance, Serna confessed that he’d cheated on his urinalysis test.


Olivera had no choice. Serna had violated his probation and the law required that he spend twenty-four hours in the county jail.


The moment Serna entered the cell he started to panic. The memory of being trapped in an armored vehicle came welling up.


But then he heard a now familiar voice and felt a pair of arms gently wrap him in a hug.


Olivera – a former Green Beret – had decided to join Serna for his sentence.


Serna later told Olivera that that night changed everything for him. It was the first time since returning to civilian life that he felt like he could open up. It was the first time he was with someone he felt he could really trust.


He returned to court two weeks later for his mandatory appearance and promised he wouldn’t violate his probation again, saying to Olivera, “I don’t want to let you down, ever.”


Olivera couldn’t get Serna out of his jail sentence – but he could join him in it. He could sit by his side. He could listen. He could be a friend.


There have been so many times I wish I could get someone I loved out of a hard situation, but I just can’t. But I can join them in it. I can sit by their side. I can listen. I can be a friend.


You can be, too.


Who needs you to sit with them in their jail cell? Who needs you by their side through a difficult situation? Who just needs you to listen to them and pray for them?


Who needs your friendship? I hope you’ll give it. You don’t know what your friendship could change.

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