A Paris Tale:
Schadenfreude, Then Shame

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Chris Pizzello / Reuters

Paris Hilton is driven from her West Hollywood, California home in a Los Angeles County Sheriff's car, June 8, 2007.

Diesel jeans in their gift bags. Court-side seats for the Lakers. A jump on the line of hopeful club-goers at Hyde. Usually when celebrities get special treatment in Los Angeles, it doesn't bother me. Stars have to sacrifice things in return for these perks—like privacy. And depth. Plus, who has time to go to a nightclub on a Wednesday night anyway? Only people whose day jobs involve bragging about themselves on talk show couches.

But when Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca released Paris Hilton from jail to home confinement just three days into serving her 45-day sentence for violating a DUI probation, it became excruciatingly clear that justice, like everything else in L.A., has a VIP line. And when an L.A. judge ordered Hilton back into jail just 24 hours later, causing the 26-year-old socialite to sob, "It's not right! Mom!" it was as if the biggest bouncer in Hollywood had folded his meaty arms and turned a whiny VIP away. I'll admit, I kind of... liked it. The same way you like watching the head cheerleader fall off the pyramid.

In Hilton's incarceration, Angelenos found a symbol of every kind of unspoken advantage in this town—wealth, blondness, whiteness, youth and, of course, celebrity—put behind bars. In a town of haves and have nots, she has lots and lots and lots, so when Baca explained that L.A. prisons are ill-equipped to handle Hilton's "undisclosed medical condition," it made us wonder how those inmates with AIDS and cancer get by. What exactly is her condition? That she can only sleep on 600 thread count sheets? When Baca sent Hilton home, law-abiding valley dwellers contemplated spending their summer vacations "confined" to Hilton's Spanish-style home in the Hollywood Hills, enjoying maid service, pool time and hand-delivered baked goods. Sign us up, we thought-we'll house sit while Hilton's in the can.

Our local politicians chimed in on behalf of justice for all, which at first seemed sort of weird to me, because I've never heard them talk about poor people before, only about freeway off-ramps and the Rose Bowl parade. Rocky Delgadillo, the prosecutor in Hilton's case, said, "We cannot tolerate a two-tiered jail system where the rich and powerful receive special treatment." Never one to miss out on potential camera time, even Al Sharpton joined the anti-Paris bandwagon.

I, too, started to feel aggrieved. Yeah! Make her wear orange! Make her eat carbs! Take away her Blackberry!

But it turns out in the L.A. County jail system these days, non-violent offenders serve only about 10% of their sentences because of over-crowding. Lots of people convicted of crimes like Hilton's, driving without a license, serve all their time from home to leave room for the murderers and rapists. If anything, Hilton has probably served more time than she would have if she were a nobody. And Sheriff Baca's end run around the prosecutor's office, while egregious for his failure to provide the proper documentation for Hilton's release, probably would have gone unnoticed if there hadn't been a herd of paparazzi chronicling every congratulatory fruit basket delivered to Hilton's home during her fleeting hours of freedom.

So for now, at least, Hilton sits in jail another night and the VIP line is closed. Somehow, that doesn't feel as good as I thought it would.