BATTLE CREEK, MICH. - The two dozen wedding guests were former military members with criminal records and all were like family.
Peter Moore and Sherry Roney were married Thursday after a session of Calhoun County Veterans Treatment Court.
District Judge Frank Line, who presided over a regular session of the court, then married the couple before the room broke into applause.
"I love the judge," Moore said about why he chose he court for the wedding. "And this is my family now."
Moore, 57, and Roney, 52, have been together for 10 years but Moore said they both are now in good places and were ready to marry.
Moore, a 21-year veteran of active and reserve duty in the Marine Corp and and Army and Air Force National Guard, was also enrolled in the treatment program after his arrest for larceny and until his graduation in December.
Calhoun County's three-year-old Veterans Treatment Court is designed as an alternative to incarceration for veterans charged with criminal violations.
"They have to earn their freedom back," Line said. "In lieu of jail."
The participants are charged with misdemeanors and felonies and must apply to participate in the program.
"In lieu of jail it is 18-months of hard work," Line said. "Applications are reviewed by a committee and we ask, 'can we do anything for this person? Is there something there that we can help this person turn around?'"
Veterans receive help with problems such as physical and mental diseases, assistance with housing and obtaining their veteran's benefits.
Members of the oversight committee are from the Veterans Administration, the prosecutor's office, defense attorneys, law enforcement, social service agencies and mental health facilities.
Like other specialty courts, those enrolled are given help as an alternative to jail.
Moore was arrested after stealing something but also needed help with a substance abuse problem.
"The program supported me and helped me turn my life around," he said. "I talked it over with God and he said its the best thing for me to do. It had many areas that helped me."
Moore, who is retired, has been working with other veterans as a mentor since his graduation.
Line said about 20 people are enrolled in the court and nearly 200 have graduated since it began.
They pay fees to participate and rules violations can cost them a few days in jail.
Line, who admits he was not originally a fan of the idea, fully endorses it now and said over 80 percent of the participants succeed, well over the 22 percent he said federal authorities predicted.
At the meeting Line speaks with each veteran, checking on progress and often asking about their successes. Committee members also attend and give success support.
He said when Moore asked him to perform the wedding service, he was honored.
"He was a product of the court and he is a mentor now," Line said.
After exchanging rings and a kiss with his new wife, Moore received handshakes from from other members and said the day was special.
"It's a wonderful day."
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