Macomb County Circuit Judge Mary Chrzanowski was featured in NBC's 'Dateline' that aired Sunday. Her iron-fisted manner in dealing with addicts in her drug court has earned her the moniker of 'Scary Mary.'Her battle with addiction and her tactics in drug court were discussed. (Daniel Mears / The Detroit News)
Macomb County Circuit Judge Mary “Scary Mary” Chrzanowski has gotten a national stage in her efforts to help defendants beat their drug addictions.
Chrzanowski’s no-nonsense courtroom demeanor and the drug court she presides over were featured in an hour-long NBC “Dateline” story Sunday.
The segment, called “Scary Mary Presiding,” followed three addicts, including a 15-year-old student, in a drug court program for almost a year. Non-violent offenders are given a chance to stay out of jail by participating in drug court. There are hundreds of such specialized court programs throughout the United States.
The judge shared with viewers her own personal struggle with her addiction, alcoholism. She said she has been sober for more than a decade.
During the taped program, Chrzanowski tells a young man in her drug court to straighten up his act when he fails to show up for a drug testing appointment.
“I’m not your mother. I’m not your friend,” said Chrzanowski. “I am your judge.”
In an interview with the “Dateline” reporter/anchor Lester Holt, Chrzanowski said she doesn’t want to lock up defendants.
“I want to help them with their problem,” said the judge. And that goes for parents, too.
To one mother who stood before her with her daughter, the 15-year-old, the judge says: “I need two people who are committed to the program. You agreed you were to going to become part of this team and try to assist your daughter. You are enabling her and it’s got to stop.”
The defendants need to learn, she tells Holt, “authority and respect.”
Iron-fisted Chrzanowski tells one addict: “We’re not fooling around. You either get with the program or you’re out of the program.”
And she’s not fooled by the people who appear before her.
He’s “a sweet talker, manipulative,” the judge says. “Is he trying to scam us? You just don’t know because he’s so good at it.”
To another young woman before her: “You don’t get a social life,” she explains of her rules for passing out of the drug court.
Chrzanowski said she began drinking heavily in law school. She described a car accident that left her mother with a scar. Even as she stared at her mother years later at her funeral, “that scar was still there.”
Her mother forgave her, but Chrzanowski says she never forgave herself for putting her mother in danger.
It’s her own story that Chrzanowski says gives her the power and the understanding to expect more of the defendants in front of her in drug court.
“I have a difficult time understanding, ‘Well, why can’t they just stop (their destructive behavior) like I did?’”