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Hollywood ‘justice’ out of whack with rest of world

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He used drugs. He may have sold drugs. And as his childhood friends graduate from college, start careers and perhaps families, his daily activities are proscribed by the routine established at the state prison where he's serving a conviction on drug-related charges.

He never made a movie or had a popular television show. Had that been his career, he'd probably be in a very attractive rehab center or outpatient counseling, negotiating with his agent and his producer to set up a filming schedule that works with his changed circumstances.

For some reason, Utahns with serious addiction problems can be sentenced to serious jail or prison time. Hollywood denizens with equally bad problems are booked on late-night talk shows or highlighted as "beautiful people" or "eligible bachelors" in pop culture magazines. Similarly, addicted singers appear on MTV to announce their touring schedules are being changed a bit to accommodate rehab. Or they promote their latest CDs by including in the packaging a little packet of flour — pretend cocaine.

Hurray for Hollywood.

I don't get it.

While parents are picking up the wreckage of substance abuse, some taking extraordinary steps to try to salvage young lives in chaos, so-called "heroes" and "role models" are flaunting very bad behavior. When was the last time you saw a child star committed to an outdoor wilderness program?

And we're all buying it. We buy it when we purchase tickets to their movies, pay for their CDs, schedule our lives around their sitcoms.

The courts buy it when they apply a different standard of justice to these "icons."

We buy it when we ignore that there are two kinds of justice — one for the rich and famous and one for most everybody else.

Don't get me wrong. I think rehabilitation is a very good thing. I am fervent in my support of second chances for all types of missteps. I certainly don't believe that we should throw anyone away if there's a chance they can get their lives under control. And it happens.

I know and love a couple of people who almost lost everything to the lure of alcohol or drugs. It was an addiction they couldn't control, and it nearly robbed them of rich, meaningful — and conscious — lives.

The road back was hard. But they put one foot in front of the other and made it, a single, often truly miserable step — and sometimes misstep — at a time.

They are my heroes. My heroes are not, however, the so-called stars who view rehab as a trip to the day-spa or a get-out-of-jail-free card.

It's one thing to talk about a personal problem, to learn from it and teach others. It's another entirely to boast of it.

My daughter, Aly, sometimes does exactly what she wants to do, even when it's clear that at age 3 she knows it's not the right choice. She figures all she'll have to do is deliver the word "sorry" with a voice totally lacking conviction and all will be well.

It seems to me that the third time she's gotten in trouble for coloring on the television screen, she ought to have a clue that she might not want to do that. It's just not worth the consequences.

I'd think that someone like Robert Downey Jr. or James Brown or a dozen others might reach the same conclusion.

But why should they? They can still make their films, their television shows, their records. Their millions.

Bad behavior in Hollywood isn't even embarrassing any more. It apparently makes the person more "interesting."

We hold them up to a different standard. And maybe that's natural. There's no doubt they lead very different lives with opportunities and temptations the rest of the world doesn't face. I think Frank Sinatra's daughter, for instance, lived a very different childhood than Frank Collins' daughter did.

I think I got off easy.

We have to find some balance. We're not occupying separate planets. We shouldn't have separate systems of justice and accountability, either.

It's supposed to be justice for all. We just have to decide what that justice entails.

Deseret News staff writer Lois M. Collins may be reached by e-mail at lois@desnews.com