The Simple Life has presumably taught Paris Hilton lots of life lessons, but none of them apparently compare to what she's learning behind bars.

"It's the most difficult thing I've ever had to experience in my life and, I don't know, it's just so surreal. It's so crazy," Hilton told American Idol and E! News host Ryan Seacrest during a Thursday afternoon phone interview.  "It's a learning experience I'm going to grow from."

The 26-year-old The Simple Life star is currently being held in Los Angeles' Century Regional Detention Center and serving the remainder of her 45-day sentence that resulted from parole violations of a September 2006 drunken driving conviction.  She told Seacrest she's "hanging in there" and is currently "doing better" than when she first landed in the slammer on June 8.

"I never thought in my wildest dreams that I would've ended up in... At first, I went through so many emotions. You know - anger, upset that all of this happened," she told Seacrest.  "Just being away from everything... you know, the craziness, the paparazzi. I've had a lot of alone time to think and read and write. Even though it's been horrible and really hard, I think that God makes everything happen for a reason and this is my time to figure out what my purpose is in life. I've really grown from it."

Hilton added she feels her life was "going really fast" and was also under constant scrutiny from the "people that look up to you."

"And the craziness of it all, sort of living in a superficial world. Now that I've been here and I've been seeing life through different eyes - just getting letters from all around the world... I have a lot of compassion for things that are going on around me that are so much more important than things I ever thought about," she told Seacrest.

Hilton has reportedly received "almost 5,000 pieces" of mail during her three weeks in the pokey -- adding none of them are "negative" in nature -- and she's also been writing back.  She described the support she's received as "really incredible."  She said she's "only allowed 10 letters at a time," adding while she waits for a fresh batch she has taken to rereading them over and over again.

"I had no idea how many supporters I have. [I've gotten letters] from kids who are four years old saying this is the first letter they've ever written. Letters saying, 'I respect you so much, I think you're a brave woman,'" she explained to Seacrest.  "I literally cry and it fills my heart and soul [with] so much love. I had no idea there were that many people who care."

In addition to correspondence that offer her support, Hilton said she's also received some letters bashing Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Michael T. Sauer for sending her back behind bars after she had initially been reassigned to home confinement due to "severe medical problems."

"There are obviously some messages about the judge, saying that he abused his power and completely took advantage of the situation," Hilton told Seacrest.  "Which I think is... I think everyone knows that. There's just so much support. I really don't know what I would've done."

Needless to say Los Angeles' Century Regional Detention Center is a far cry from a Hilton Hotel, so in the beginning the hotel heiress said she had a "really hard" time sleeping and still finds it difficult to catch some shut-eye.

"I'm claustrophobic and my cell is really small. It's hard... there's nothing to do but basically sit in a room with a bunk bed and a toilet and a desk. I was going a little bit crazy in the beginning but I'm getting used to it now," she told Seacrest.  "It's kinda loud at night. They shut the doors really loudly and the guards' keys are jingling. I haven't really gotten much sleep here."
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Loud doors closing and guards with keys could have been the least of Hilton's problems depending on how her fellow female inmates treated her.  But she said the inmates are more likely to ask for an autograph than stick her with a shank.

"I was really scared to come here at first, but all of the inmates have been really nice and supportive," she told Seacrest.  "I don't know... it's different than I thought it would be. It's not like what everyone thinks about jail.  I just want to be normal when I walk down the halls. There are classrooms here because a lot of the inmates didn't have the opportunity to go to school, so they'll all be in there and all wave and blow kisses.  Everyone is really supportive and sweet. If I'm crying and upset, they'll say, 'Don't cry' and 'God bless you.'"

The inmates may be supportive, but in addition to the sleep being bad Hilton described the food as "awful" and "absolutely inedible," so of course she's excited about getting out, which she added should happen "in the next couple of days."

"I just can't wait to see my family and actually just give my parents and my sister a hug, because they've been visiting me and I've been behind that bulletproof glass. So I haven't even been able to give my dad a hug for Father's Day," Hilton told Seacrest.  "I just can't wait to see my family and have a nice meal and be in my own bed and appreciate all the things I took for granted and never really thought much about."

Upon her release, Hilton said she plans on starting to use "what I've been given by God to bring light to causes I believe in."

"I'm so much more grateful for everything that I have, even just to have a pillow at night or food or anything. My gratitude has gone up so much and I just realize that the media used me to make fun of and be mean about. I'm frankly sick of it. I want to use my fame in a good way," she told Seacrest.  "I'm just excited to start this new life. I appreciate everything now and I don't want to... I think there're a lot of bad people that I was around and I don't want to surround myself with those types of people anymore."