"I feel like God does make everything happen for a reason. And [prison] gave me, you know, a time-out in life to really find out what's important and what I want to do, figuring out who I am," Hilton said during a Wednesday night interview with Larry King on CNN's Larry King Live. "And I'm -- even though it was really hard, I took that time just to get to know myself."
The 26-year-old socialite and hotel heiress was released from Century Regional Detention Facility early Tuesday morning after serving 23 days of a 45-day sentence that resulted from parole violations of a September 2006 drunken driving conviction. Hilton said while she's "not a big drinker" and has never done drugs, she's taking "full responsibility" for having driven under the influence and described her stint in the slammer as a "blessing in disguise."
"I realized that there's a lot more important things in my life," she told King. "And there's a lot more things to do. And I'm frankly sick of it. You know, I've been going out for a long time now. And yes, it's fun, but it's not going to be the mainstay of my life anymore... I've gotten rid of a lot of people. I think -- especially being in Los Angeles, there is a lot of people out here that like people for certain reasons, and I don't want people who are not going to be beneficial to my life, who don't want positive things in my life, and I had to cut a lot of people out."
"I think in life, everyone makes mistakes and you have to learn and grow from them. And I've been a little immature in the past and made some wrong choices. But I learned from them, and I think that makes me the person I am today," Hilton continued. "I've definitely matured and grown a lot from this experience, so I just -- I don't know, I just want to be -- I'm 26-years-old. I'm an adult, and I am -- I have to just grow up and to be a more responsible -- a role model."
Hilton initially began to serve her 45-day sentence on Sunday, June 3 after attending the MTV Movie Awards, and she said her decision to appear on the red carpet at the event was a ploy to throw-off the media so she could go to the Lynwood, CA detention facility without a firestorm of attention.
"I was playing a trick on everyone," she explained to King. "Because outside my house, outside the Lynwood facility, there were paparazzi, I heard, from all around the world. So I thought, if I went to the MTV Awards, snuck out during the show, I could get there unnoticed. And that's what we did. No one even saw me going in."
"I've suffered from claustrophobia my entire life. And when I first got in that cell, I was having severe panic attacks, anxiety attacks," Hilton told King, adding she also takes prescribed medication for ADD. "My claustrophobia was kicking in. I wasn't sleeping; I wasn't eating. It was -- the doctors talked to the sheriff and he could see that it would be better if I just get out in house arrest."
Despite the Sheriff Department's decision, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Michael T. Sauer's May 4 sentencing ruling had specifically stated that Hilton should not be eligible for early release or electronic monitoring -- so she was taken back to court for a June 8 hearing to determine her fate.
"It was a shock," Hilton told King of going back to court. "Everything, you know, going from being so happy to be at home with my family, and then I'm pulled -- I'm not supposed to be going to court the next day. The sheriff said, stay at home. Then all of a sudden, that's when the police arrived and... They're telling me that they're going to handcuff me and then bring me back to the courthouse. I had no idea what was going on. I was in complete shock. It was unbelievable. I was terrified."
Hilton didn't feel much better when Sauer ruled that she be put back behind bars for the reminder of her sentence. However Sauer's decision apparently helped the ramifications of her actions start to sink in.
"I just had to deal with it. I didn't know, you know, if I was going to be there, I had to make the best of it," she told King. "So I meditated. I read letters. I wrote in my journal. And I would just close my eyes and literally pretend that I was somewhere else, just imagining like I was in some, like, special place sometimes. It was really difficult, but I've made it through."
Hilton said the sheriffs she dealt with while behind bars were "very professional" and treated her like the other inmates, "no better, no worse." She added she spent 23-hours-a-day by herself in an 8 by 12 foot cell that included a metal bunk bed, toilet, sink and a small desk. With the other hour of her day, Hilton said she would shower and talk to her family over the phone.
"In the beginning, it was really hard, really hard for me. It's kind of a blow. So kind of traumatic. But after a while, I had to accept that I could either make the best of it or make the worst of it. So I just went with the motto don't serve the time; let the time serve you. And so that really helped," Hilton told King. "Just the whole idea of being in jail is really scary. I wasn't -- I would hate to be alone, so that was really, you know, hard for me in the beginning, to be so alone. And I've had nightmares that my -- someone would break into my cell and hurt me. And just scary times like that."
Hilton described her release Tuesday -- which also marked the beginning of probation stint that could last until March 2009 -- as "overwhelming."
"I've been confined for three-and-a-half weeks in a little cell so it's just overwhelming to be out and be free again," she told King. "It was one of the happiest days of my life. Like -- it's hard to even describe. It was so exciting even just being in the fresh air and looking up at the sky and the stars and being outside and then it was just pandemonium and then as soon as I saw my mom I just ran to her to give her a hug. So that was really exciting for me."
The Simple Life'sfifth season is currently airing on E!, and Hilton said she's "doing another season in the next couple months" as well as working on "a couple movies this summer."
"I felt like this is a new beginning for me, to see jail -- and I just used it as a journey to figure out myself and who I am and what I want to do. And there's just so much more to me than what people think," she told King. "I feel like I've started my journey and I'm going to continue every day to find out more and more about myself."