One of my favorite Web sites is the “incarcerated celebrities” page on Wikipedia. It’s taught me valuable information about celebrities who have landed in prison at some point in their life. With the click of a mouse I can learn that Kelsey Grammar spent 30 days in prison for drunk driving and cocaine possession, and that Zsa Zsa Gabor spent 72 hours in prison for slapping a police officer. It’s kind of cool.
Even though I’ve been known to hide People magazine in between cereal and a loaf of bread while grocery shopping and read it privately in my dorm room, I don’t have a huge obsession with celebrities. I don’t care what Jessica Biel was wearing while brunching at a cute L.A. cafe with Justin Timberlake, nor what type of make-up Jennifer Lopez prefers, but for some reason, I always get a kick out of seeing their blunders. Whether it be drug possession, violating alcohol probation or stealing designer clothing from Saks Fifth Avenue – we still love you, Winona! – I usually get a gleeful high from these celebrity misfortunes. Sometimes these tales can be depressing, like Nicole Richie driving the wrong way on the highway, but usually it’s eye-rolling funny. And taking it a step further, when a celebrity lands in jail, I usually take notice.
While venturing on Wikipedia, my attention was first turned to Tommy Lee. After learning that he had spent four months in prison for kicking his former wife, Pamela Anderson, I then learned about many other interesting facets of his life. I found out he had been a member of his high school’s marching band, recently recorded drum tracks for Jack’s Mannequin and was a supporter of PETA, to my surprise. I then decided to follow up my T.L. research with some data gathering on Mike Tyson’s ear-biting incident, but when I learned he had been arrested 38 times by the age of 13, I decided I didn’t care as much as I thought I did and moved on.
The question worth asking these days is, “does going to prison help celebrities?” Which is to say, “do they learn something as a result of their slip-ups and decide to make the world a better place?” Of course, our favorite girl Paris Hilton was nowhere to be found on the list – shame on you Wikipedia! – though, as soon as I typed “celebrities in prison” into the Google search engine, her name popped up in one of the first 10 pages. She says she’ll be heading off to Rwanda this fall to help the less fortunate. Only time will tell if that’s true, but there certainly are some celebrities who have benefited from time spent in the big house.
There was Martha Stewart, who spent five months at the Alderson Federal Prison Camp in West Virginia for fraud, obstruction of justice and conspiracy; as far as we know, Martha’s been doing well. She’s launched a new line of “Martha Stewart Crafts” and 350 new paint hues for her “Martha Stewart Colors” line. She’s also gearing up to debut her new home-related products line for Macy’s and has her daily “Martha” TV show to keep her busy. Then again, when you have a crafts line to keep you entertained, why would you ever resort to stealing or drinking?
There was also Lil’ Kim, who spent a year and a day in jail after being convicted on charges of conspiracy and perjury for lying to a jury about her involvement in a 2001 shooting outside of a New York City radio station. After serving her sentence, she’s busy by performing at various events, marketing her clothing line and working on a new book.
Searching further than Wikipedia on the Internet, I found a forum that actually posed the question, “Which celebrities would you like to see in prison?” The answers, ranging from “Hillary Clinton for impersonating a man” to “Barbara Walters for creating ‘The View,’ then adding Rosie O’Donnell to the mix,” to “Lock up K-Fed for damaging a priceless jewel,” were interesting, to say the least.
Some pointed fingers at Lindsay Lohan, who has indeed had a few minor problems with the law. Would prison help Lindsay Lohan? It’s hard to say, but it seems as though her many stints in rehab haven’t done much.
One thing that jail time demonstrates is that celebrities, no matter how much we think the opposite, are actual human beings. They make mistakes – sometimes really stupid mistakes. And for the most part, the public will take interest in these mistakes.
Kraus is a member of the class of 2009.