Paris Hilton appeared before a Las Vegas judge on September 20 and pled guilty to two misdemeanors regarding her August 27 drug arrest. One charge was for possessing a small amount of cocaine and the other for obstructing an officer. In return, she was received one year's probation.
Under the plea agreement, Paris avoided doing jail time by agreeing to pay a $2,000 fine, to perform 200 hours of community service, and to complete a drug treatment program. The judge who sentenced Hilton told her that "Any new arrests terminate your criminal probation and you will serve a one year sentence."
Hilton had two previous brushes with the law - this summer, and in 2007, when she was arrested for driving under the influence (DUI) that led to her doing 23 days at the Century Regional Detention Facility.
Like tens of millions of Americans, Paris Hilton wants to use drugs, either to get in touch with reality or to escape from it. Does she have the right to put substances in her body if she does not hurt others? Or does she deserve to go to jail for doing so? Every year millions of other Americans are arrested for minor drug law violations - but most of them do not get the same breaks that Hilton has received.
Sometimes it takes a traumatic experience to awaken the hidden self. But Hilton's 23 days in jail and her multiple arrests for drug use have not seemed to give her the wake up call she needs. But it did give her a taste of life in the gulag. In that short time, I gather she felt the reality of what it's like to lose your life as you know it. Sitting in a small cell can provoke profound existential questioning - I'm sure Hilton saw the light, even if just for a moment.
There is something mystical about spending time in a cage. Since there is nowhere to go, you pace the perimeter of your cell. Back and forth or around in circles, all the while reliving the crime you committed that brought you there. When it gets really bad, you start reading the Bible and praying to the Lord for forgiveness. From published accounts, that's exactly what Paris did.
But the problem Paris faced as an ex-con is one that all ex-cons experience, and one that can lead them down the road to recidivism. When you are released you want to forget the prison experience. You do your best to block it out. In her case, all those feelings she built up inside her brought on by her longing for her lost freedom when she was in jail.
How do I know? I did a 12-year stint at Sing Sing, and the first day I got out I almost completely forgot all the feelings I experienced while I was there. I forgot about how my existence was reduced to daily routines and calculations. I forgot about measuring time in reference to the day at hand and the functions associated with it - the head counts and bells that the prison used to maintain security and order.
Paris felt the sting of the government's zero tolerance policy on drug use that incarcerates hundreds of thousands of Americans. Now I suggest with this recent arrest she follows up with her thoughts back when she was released in 2007. Back then, fresh out of jail, Paris wanted to be an advocate and find meaning in her life. On the Larry King Show she was asked if she was planning to help others. Paris responded and said "That's something I was actually thinking a lot about in jail. I feel like, you know, being in the spotlight, I have a platform where I can raise awareness for so many great causes, and just do so much with this, instead of, you know, superficial things like going out. I want to help raise money for kids, breast cancer and multiple sclerosis." Those thoughts were soon forgotten.
But now because of her probation and her apparent drug use she was sentenced to two hundred hours of community service. I suggest that Paris Hilton now speak out and become an advocate for reforming our draconian drug laws. Think of how many lives she could save by speaking out for treatment instead of imprisonment. We would welcome her to our movement.
(UPDATE; Yesterday Hilton was just rejected from entering the Japan because of her drug conviction. Now she really feeling the stigma of being convicted of a drug crime.)
Anthony Papa is the author of 15 to Life and Manager of Media Relations for the Drug Policy Alliance.