LOS ANGELES — Paris Hilton left jail Tuesday after a bizarre, three-week stay in which the hotel heiress was briefly released to her Hollywood Hills home, then sent screaming and crying back to a county lockup.
The 26-year-old celebutante walked out of the all-women’s jail in Lynwood to an enormous horde of cameras and reporters after midnight. She had checked into the jail, largely avoiding the spotlight, late June 3 after a surprise appearance at the MTV Movie Awards.
Hilton smiled as she left the jail, her blonde hair pulled back in a ponytail. Her parents, Kathy and Rick, met her in a black SUV as cameras snapped pictures and Hilton, wearing a gold blouse with white trim over a white shirt and black slacks, waved to the crowd.
Paris Hilton will complete her probation in March 2009 as long as she keeps her driver’s license current and doesn’t break any laws. She can reduce that time by 12 months if she does community service that could include a public-service announcement, the city attorney’s office has said.
Hilton began her 45-day sentence for violating her probation in an alcohol-related reckless driving case. She was mostly confined to a solitary cell in the special needs unit away from the other 2,200 inmates.
She spent only three days there and was released with electronic monitoring by Sheriff Lee Baca for an unspecified medical condition that he later said was psychological.
The following day Superior Court Judge Michael T. Sauer, who sentenced the hotel heiress, called her back into court and ordered her returned to jail, saying he had not condoned her release.
Hilton left the courtroom in tears calling for her mother and shouting, "It’s not right!"
She was then taken to the downtown Twin Towers jail, which houses men and the county jail’s medical treatment center, where she underwent medical and psychiatric exams to determine where she should be confined.
Hilton’s stay there cost taxpayers $1,109.78 a day, more than 10 times the cost of housing inmates in the general population.
The move by Baca caused a firestorm of criticism over whether the celebrity was getting special treatment. The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors has launched an investigation into whether the multimillionaire received special treatment because of her wealth and fame.
At least one person has filed a claim against the county alleging she "had serious medical issues" but was treated much worse than Hilton.
A few days into her stint at the Twin Towers medical ward, the heiress revealed in a phone call to Barbara Walters a new outlook on life.
"I used to act dumb. It was an act. I am 26 years old, and that act is no longer cute," Hilton said during the call, according to an account posted June 11 by Walters on ABC’s Web site.
"It is not who I am, nor do I want to be that person for the young girls who looked up to me," Hilton was quoted as saying.
Hilton’s path to jail began Sept. 7, when she failed a sobriety test after police saw her weaving down a street in her Mercedes-Benz on what she said was a late-night run to a hamburger stand.
She pleaded no contest to reckless driving and was sentenced to 36 months’ probation, alcohol education and $1,500 in fines.
In the months that followed, she was stopped twice by officers who discovered her driving with a suspended license. The second stop landed her in Sauer’s courtroom, where he sentenced her to jail.
Video: Paris Hilton walks free
Hilton Describes Jail As ‘Traumatic’
Jun 28, 11:16 PM EST
The Associated Press
In her first televised interview since leaving jail, a demure Hilton said Wednesday that even though she’s an Aquarius and "we’re social people," her time behind bars taught her "there’s a lot more important things in life" than partying.
"I’m frankly sick of it," Hilton said, with loose, re-blonded locks and camera-ready makeup. "I’ve been going out for a long time now. Yeah, it’s fun, but it’s not going to be the mainstay of my life anymore."
She said her incarceration was "a very traumatic experience" that inspired a "journey" of self-discovery that she intends to continue. The world will see a new Paris Hilton, she said.
"I’m glad it happened in a way because it’s changed my life forever," she said in the pre-taped, hour-long interview. "I feel stronger than ever and, I don’t know, I feel like this is a lesson in disguise."
The hotel heiress spent about 23 days in custody before she was sprung Tuesday. Hilton passed the time, she said, considering "what was important and what I want to do."
Among those plans? Using her fame to bring attention to social causes rather than the newest Hollywood nightspot.
"I feel like 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 superficial things like going out," she said. "I want to help raise money for kids and for breast cancer and multiple sclerosis."
Hilton said a big misconception about her is that she lives off her family’s money.
"I completely disagree with that," she said.
"I work very hard. I run a business. I’ve had a book on The New York Times best-sellers list. I’m on the fifth season of my TV show. I did an album. I do movies."
The media has exaggerated her party-girl image, she said, telling King twice she’s never taken drugs and does not have a drinking problem.
"I’m not really into it," Hilton said of drinking.
Asked why she never tried to correct inaccurate reports of partying and drug use, Hilton said, "I’m telling you right now so I put a stop to it."
Alone in her cell for 23 hours a day, Hilton devoted herself to reading, writing and thinking. She said she made plans to help her fellow inmates and imagined ways to be "a more responsible role model."
"I feel like God does make everything happen for a reason," she said. "And it gave me, you know, a time-out in life just to really find out what is important and what I want to do, figure out who I am."
Educated in Roman Catholic schools, Hilton said she’s "always been religious" and "always had a sense of spirituality but even more so after being in jail."
She bought a Bible from the jail commissary and read it daily, she said. Asked to name her favorite passage, she smiled and looked away.
"I don’t have a favorite," she said.
At various points during the interview, Hilton read excerpts from her jailtime journals, beginning each passage with a heavy sigh. She wrote about being at a crossroads, characterizing it as "neither a downfall nor a failure, but a new beginning," and about her "compassion for those I left behind at the prison."
"I want to help set up a place where these women can get themselves back on their feet," she read. "I know I can make a difference and hopefully stop this vicious circle of these people going in and out of jail."
Hilton said she suffers from claustrophobia and attention deficit disorder, for which she takes medication. She said sheriff’s officials released her to home confinement after just three days because of claustrophobia and anxiety and panic attacks.
After a judge ordered her back to jail, Hilton said she coped by meditating and reading letters from fans. But she still had nightmares of "someone trying to break into my cell and hurt me."
"Just the whole idea of being in jail is really scary," she said. "I hate to be alone so that was really just hard for me in the beginning."
When asked about the party crowd she hangs with, including Britney Spears, Lindsay Lohan and her reality TV co-star Nicole Richie, Hilton said "everybody makes mistakes."
"I think it’s hard for anyone when you’re in the spotlight so much," she said. "It’s overwhelming for any young girl, but I’ve handled it well."