Dealing with jail time for driving offenses was difficult, but now Paris Hilton faces the aftermath.
The 26-year-old heiress is expected to be released from a Los Angeles County women’s jail early this week, and she professes a desire to shift her life’s course.
But unlike most newly released inmates, Hilton has a trail of photographers in constant pursuit and a career based largely on partying and posing for pictures.
Hilton insists she’s a changed woman after serving time behind bars.
“I would like to make a difference,” she told Barbara Walters. “God has given me this new chance.”
Saying it is one thing and doing it is another, said Dorian Traube, a professor of social work at University of Southern California.
“If this indeed has changed her, then the transition will be very difficult because she’ll have to find a new purpose in life” beyond being queen of the party scene, Traube said. “Her life will have to change drastically, which is going to be tricky because she’s going to be in the public eye more than ever.”
So long as she keeps her driver’s license current and doesn’t break any laws, Hilton will complete her probation in March 2009. She can reduce that time by 12 months if she does community service or records a public-service announcement, the city attorney’s office said.
But Hilton and her family have hardly shied away from the media during her time behind bars. That constant attention, along with society’s “sick fascination with failure,” will make Hilton’s transition more challenging, Traube said.
“She has almost set herself up to fail because there’s been so much talk about how she’s a changed person, how she found religion and she prays all the time,” she said. “People are bitter for the notoriety she has for having done very little other than party, so they’re standing around waiting for her to fail.”
Abandoning her party-girl image, stamped by her appearance in a sex video, in favor of a philanthropic one will bring emotional costs, too, said psychologist Jeremy Ritzlin, who ran a halfway house for recently released federal prisoners.
Making a public service announcement against drinking and driving would be a good move for Hilton, said David Brokaw, a longtime Hollywood publicist.
“That would say she’s serious” about changing, he said.
“The American people don’t hold a grudge if somebody genuinely says ‘I was wrong, I made mistakes, I’m sorry,”’ Brokaw said. “If she says that and it’s verified by what she does, then she’s on her way to maybe even better acceptance and interest than ever before.”
Hilton told E! News last week that she plans to build a “transitional home” to help recently released inmates readjust to freedom.
“These women just keep coming back (to jail) because they have no place to go,” Hilton said. “It’s a really bad cycle and if we stop it now, we can make our community a better place.”
She said she is “much more grateful” after spending time in jail.
“I appreciate everything now and I think there was a lot of bad people that I was around,” she told E! “I don’t want to surround myself with those types of people anymore.”
Only time will reveal whether Hilton has really changed, said veteran publicist Michael Levine.
“The soap opera, where it’s been filled with drinking and drugs and porn videos, is very, very popular and compelling,” he said. “If she turns the story to another, will it remain popular?”