A Taste of the Gulag

Paris Hilton is free. Hooray! Sometimes it takes a traumatic experience to awaken the hidden self. The 23 days she spent at the Century Regional Detention Facility was far short of doing “hard time.”

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 be a most existential existence–I’m sure Hilton saw the light.

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. For sure, Hilton has learned her lesson–or has she?

The problem she will now face as an ex-con is one that all ex-cons experience, and one that can lead them down the road to recidivism. For the most part, when you are released you want to forget the prison experience. You do your best to block it out. In her case, I would bet that in a week those feelings she has built up inside her brought on by her longing for her freedom will disappear.

How do I know? I did a 12-year stretch at Sing Sing, and the first day I got out I almost completely forgot all the feelings I had. 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.

So, for sure, those 23 days will not mean much unless she is doing something to remind her of her experience.

Hilton should follow up with her talk that she wants to find meaning in her life. Because her jail time came from her arrest on a charge of driving with a suspended license after a previous drunk-driving arrest, it would be appropriate if Hilton now explored the subject of drugs and addiction. She would have a great opportunity to become a noted spokeswoman for those less fortunate. Think of how many lives she could save.

But let’s not kid ourselves too much. Hilton comes from the part of the privileged class that most of the time has justice applied in a kinder fashion. She probably will go back to her home and drown herself in its lush surroundings and surely forget all about the time she did.

I just hope Hilton keeps a memory of the redemption and forgiveness she sought while sitting in her cell. Maybe then it will compel her to use her fame for the good of society.

ANTHONY PAPA is the author of 15 Years to Life: How I Painted My Way to Freedom and Communications Specialist for Drug Policy Alliance. He can be reached at: anthonypapa123@yahoo.com

Papa’s artwork can be viewed at: www.15yearstolife.com/art1.htm



Anthony Papa is the Manager of Media and Artist Relations for the Drug Policy Alliance and the author of This Side of Freedom: Life After Lockdown.