Paris Hilton and Martha Stewart

Contrast, if you will, Paris Hilton going into hysterics upon being sent back to jail and Martha Stewart’s Christmas 2004 letter from prison.

So many of the women here in Alderson will never have the joy and wellbeing that you and I experience. Many of them have been here for years — devoid of care, devoid of love, devoid of family.

I beseech you all to think about these women — to encourage the American people to ask for reforms, both in sentencing guidelines, in length of incarceration for nonviolent first-time offenders, and for those involved in drug-taking. They would be much better served in a true rehabilitation center than in prison where there is no real help.

It struck me at the time, and still does, that Stewart’s letter was devoid of self-pity and instead concerned with women inmates who have nothing to go back to and no skills once they are released.

Paris Hilton went to jail for violating probation. Most judges take a dim view of such shenanigans and would have done the same. That Hilton made things worse by acting like a spoiled child is her own idiotic fault.

Martha Stewart did her time and didn’t whine about it. Paris Hilton obviously has serious mental problems and probably a monkey or two on her back. Cold turkey got me on the run.

Sue has been to the Lynwood jail, where Hilton is being held, to visit people. It’s a nasty vicious place where staph infections run rampant and help is minimal. Yet California and Los Angeles just keep building more of these punishment factories. Because punishment, not rehabilitation, is what they are about. Oh, and the billions of dollars that is spent building and maintaining them, that’s a big part of it too. Politicians, contractors, and prison guard unions make sure the grease keeps coming.

Most of the people in jails and prisons are there because of alcohol and drugs. Building prisons to treat alcoholism and drug addiction is like building graveyards to treat cancer. You want to cut the crime rate? Get people clean and sober. It’s that simple.

How many mentally unbalanced women like Paris Hilton are in the prison system because of alcohol and drugs? But they aren’t famous, so you never hear about them. No one hears their screams.

Maybe Hilton’s plight will help focus attention on just how sick our prison system is.


  1. Heard a local criminal defense lawyer on Patt Morrison’s radio show on KPCC (one of the local PBS stations) yesterday discussing the merits, such as they are, of what happened. According to him, being released after this period of time is pretty common for the LA County Jail, particularly for non-violent offenses. The Sherrif is under federal court supervision and orders to keep the population of the jail under control, so there are all kinds of competing concerns. What I found the most interesting was that, according to this lawyer who knows the system well, if Paris Hilton were NOT famous, she’d have served just about this amount of time in the jail as well. Ironically, in spite of what the ignorant talking heads from the other side of the country say, he says that if she WERE poor and black, she’d have been released without uproar. Interesting to see that, for once, celebrity status and notariety works AGAINST the celebrity.

  2. Thanks, Joe. You’re absolutely right. I know a gal who was sentenced to (I believe) a year in jail for driving under the influence, wrecking her car, and stabbing her boyfried in a drunken rage (not necesssarily in that order). She was released after only a few days to house arrest. But you didn’t hear about her release in the news, because she isn’t famous. Just poor, hispanic, and badly needing a detox unit and treatment program.

  3. All that being said, your point and Bob’s about more need for detox and rehabiilitation from the affects of addiction is exactly on point. If the purpose of tossing somebody in the can for a couple of days is to get them to pay attention, it’s pretty hard to do that when you’re addicted.

    This case demonstratess one of the unpleasant aftereffects of Ronald Reagan deciding, in conjunction with the civil liberties people, to close down the state mental hospitals. From what you say, I take it that most of the folks you saw in Lynwood needed some form of civil commitment more than anything else, where they’d be required to obtain treatment and where, obviously it would have to be offered. I have zero problem with such a proposal. I’d much rather have us spending our tax dollars on programs that have some prospect of success than the negligible chance of success that jail has.

    My sense is that a lot of the people who you see in county jail need to be confined and supervised or they won’t go through the treatment. Is that your experience? I’d be really interested in hearing more.

  4. If they’ve done violent crimes, it’s more complicated. You can’t just let them into a detox program. But even with that, I know quite a few men who did serious prison time for violent crimes, got sober (either inside or outside of prison) and now are just regular citizens. They don’t stick guns in people’s faces any more and for this, both they and everyone else are happy.

    Once you take away the need for lots of quick money to pay for drugs and all the sleaze you have to go through to get the drugs, then living gets a whole lot simpler and also crime free.

    For those in prisons for possession or minor dealing or prostitution (often drug-related), some type of rehab is way better.

    Of course, you can’t force someone to get clean and sober, you can only show the way to them. It can’t be mandated.

  5. “Of course, you can’t force someone to get clean and sober, you can only show the way to them. It can’t be mandated.”

    That is so true– and so discouraging. So many who obviously could benefit from getting sober have no interest. And when their behavior hurts someone, they must face the consequences of their actions. So incarceration has its place.

    OTOH, our society (and CA in particular) has gotten so impatient with the level of crime, much of it related to drugs, lack of quality education, lack of programs, etc.– in short, much of it caused by shortsighted policies– that they;re ready to lock people up and throw away the key for relatively minor offenses. I have a friend who (drunk) got in a fight with another drunk outside a 7-Eleven. He’s now doing 36 to life. He also got sober.

    What is so discouraging is that in one of the prisons he spent a few years in, he couldn’t even go to AA meetings. There’s only one meeting a week, and there’s a space limit– and lifers get first consideration so the average wait time for approval is 4-5 years. There were also no work programs available for those serving less than life. So he spent 23 hours a day sitting around a cell and watching TV, trying not to get sucked into the alcohol and heroin being consumed all around him.

    Incarceration has its place, but always in partnership with treatment for those who want it. Not everyone will seek “redemption”– but for those who do, how can we not make it available? And yes, I too know people who’ve done dreadful things, who are now sober and law-abiding, contributing memebers of society.

  6. I should have made my points a little clearer.

    For nonviolent offenses, it’s almost always related to a behavior problem where the petty criminal is self-medicating. I’m suggesting if we want to get serious about treating that, we need to get these folks in a locked treatment facility where they can’t leave. True, you cannot force them to take the treatment to heart, but you can make them get treatment. I think confinement is the only way of insuring that they get the treatment that they need. Coercive? Sure, but so is a demand that Mel Gibson attend AA meetings or not drink. The confinement simply removes the temptations (and ability) to slide.

    I’m not suggesting it will work all the time, or even half the time. But some percentage is better than nothing.

    It would be interesting to see how the costs actually compare in the long run to incarceration. Incarceration is like bombing: it’s immediately gratifying emotionally, but rarely solves the problem on the ground unless you’re prepared to kill everyone within the blast radius. To use Bob’s analogy, we wouldn’t even have to treat cancer by building cemeteries; we’d just take the cancer victims to their graves and shoot them directly.

    In any system, be it welfare or penal, there are 5 to 10 per cent that are going to be recidivists. Any humane system has to anticipate such folks and plan for how they can be treated appropriately. Perfection is not achievable.

  7. “The confinement simply removes the temptations (and ability) to slide.”

    Hope it works better than what we have now. One of the problems my sober friend faces in his maximum security prison is that his cellmate is a practicing junkie. Alcohol and speed are also reported to be readily available. In maximum security! Capitalism is nothing if not resourceful.

  8. I believe that enforced treatment in a locked facility operated under the banner of “first, do no harm” is a much better route than imprisonment in a toxic environment of concrete cells, junkie cellmates, and nonexistant assistance toward recovery.

    Its true that many relapse after one (or more) trips to prison or rehabilitation hospital. However, recovery rates are much better when prisoners and patients are shuttled directly from inside locked facilities to half-way residential treatment programs. As a friend of mine says, along the streets leading to the doors of prison there are many liquor stores and bars. It’s a long walk to safety.

    As a society, we have to try treatment options. It is the only humane action to take. In trying, the solution may be found.

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