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On the September 21st episode of The Drew Barrymore Show, host Barrymore and guest Paris Hilton connected over their experiences in solitary confinement while at corrective-behavior boarding schools as teenagers. “I’ve been where you’ve been,” Barrymore told Hilton.
The socialite appeared on Barrymore’s talk show to promote her new YouTube Originals documentary, This Is Paris, in which she reveals the mental, emotional, and physical abuse she endured as a student at Provo Canyon School when she was 17. Among those abuses, Hilton alleges that the school placed her in solitary confinement after a fellow student told administrators about Hilton’s plans to run away.
Barrymore, who struggled with addiction throughout her childhood and teens, related firsthand to Hilton’s uniquely traumatic experience.
“I’m watching a mirror image of everything I’ve been through as well,” Barrymore told Hilton. “I want to have you know that I’ve had people come and take me away, I’ve been locked up in solitary confinement, I’ve been in a place for lengthy periods of time—we’re talking a year, year-and-a-half plus. I haven't’ seen a kind of story like this really reflected out there very often that’s one I recognize so deeply.”
Barrymore has previously opened up about being “locked up in an institution” as a teenager; and although her tenure there was “horrible and dark and very long-lived,” she told The Guardian in a 2018 interview, she maintains that she “needed it.”
“I have to tell you, the people at my place were really good,” Barrymore reiterated to Hilton. “I didn’t like being thrown in solitary confinement. I will say I was very rebellious. I started riots there all the time...[But] that place really did help me and it did save my life, and I actually wouldn’t change a thing.”
On the other hand, Hilton’s experience at Provo Canyon School only served to inflict long-term emotional damage.
“All it did was give me trust issues, PTSD,” Hilton told Barrymore. “I didn’t deserve to go there.”
She continued, “My mom and dad were just very strict and sheltered when I lived in L.A. I wasn’t allowed to go on dates, couldn’t wear makeup, couldn’t go to a school dance. They just didn’t want me to grow up,” Hilton explained. “Then I moved to New York and that's when my life changed and I just was sneaking out at night and going to clubs and ditching school, but not doing anything terrible—just wanting to go out at night, and that really scared my parents, because they were so protective.”
That’s when her parents enrolled her at Provo Canyon School, which “was supposed to be a school, but [classes] were not the focus at all,” Hilton said in a recent People interview. “From the moment I woke up until I went to bed, it was all day screaming in my face, yelling at me, continuous torture.”
On The Drew Barrymore Show, Hilton said that she didn’t originally intend to focus so heavily on her experience at boarding school in her documentary. Rather, she said, "I wanted to do a film to show the businesswoman I am, and all I've accomplished, because I feel like there are just so many misconceptions about me."
During filming, she and director Alexandra Dean developed “a sisterly relationship” during filming, and Hilton felt safe opening up to Dean about her past. Dean encouraged Hilton to tell her story. “She told me, ‘This is so important, that you tell your story, because you're going to help other survivors and people will want to come forward with theirs,’” Hilton told Barrymore.
“It was hard to relive and have to remember all these traumatic experiences that I tried so hard to forget and just act like they never happened,” Hilton continued. “Basically I was just trying to look like I had the perfect life, and I was embarrassed for people to know. And I now know that I shouldn’t be ashamed. The people who work at these places, who are abusing children, are the ones who should be ashamed.”
Now, Hilton is on the road to healing.
“I am so excited for the future,” Hilton said. “I feel like this is the best place I’ve ever been in my life.”