LOS ANGELES – Being locked in a cell was a "traumatic experience" and something she never expected after driving with a suspended license, a subdued Paris Hilton told CNN's Larry King on Wednesday.
Letters from fans and supporters from around the world, including U.S. soldiers in Iraq and people as far away as India, helped her get through the 23 days in lockup, Hilton told King in her first broadcast interview since leaving jail Tuesday.
All of the letters were positive, she said, adding that reading them in her cell sometimes reduced her to tears.
"I've been through a lot," said Hilton, her blond hair cascading across her forehead. "And it was a pretty traumatic experience, something that I really have grown from."
Asked why she was going public about her experience, she told King, "I just want to let people know what I went through."
She added that going to jail was the last thing she expected when Superior Court Judge Michael T. Sauer ordered her to his court in May for violating probation in an alcohol-related reckless-driving case.
"I was walking in there assuming I was just going to get community service," Hilton said. "That's what my lawyer said at the time. So when he sentenced me to that much time in jail it was shocking because that doesn't happen, ever.
"It wasn't for DUI, it was for suspended license," she said of her case.
Asked whether she thought she got a "raw deal," she said yes. Still, she vowed never to drink and drive again.
"I'll never make that mistake again," she said.
Hilton also told King she thought the experience had changed her for the better.
"I feel like God does make everything happen for a reason," she said. "And it gave me, you know, a time-out in life just to really find out what is important and what I want to do, figure out who I am."
She said she is looking at getting involved in a number of charitable causes, including those helping children.
Asked about her reputation as a party girl, the 26-year-old hotel heiress acknowledged she likes to have a good time with friends, but insisted that only represents one side of her.
"I am a social person," she said. "I love to dance, I love to go out, I love music. But a lot of people don't know that I'm a business person. I run several businesses."
She noted she has a successful reality TV show, has made movies, recorded an album and written a best-selling book.
Hilton, who said she supports herself and doesn't take money from her parents, also acknowledged it may be time to cut back on her partying.
"I'm frankly sick of it," she said. "I've been going out for a long time now, and yeah, it's fun, but it's not going to be the mainstay of my life anymore."
Hilton said she has never used illegal drugs although she has been in the presence of those who have. She also said she has cut some friends out of her life who were causing her trouble.
She said she eventually hopes to marry and have children.
"When I have a daughter I have a lot of good advice for her," she said.
Hilton laughed with embarrassment when she was shown her mugshot.
Being strip-searched in jail, she said, was "the most humiliating experience of my life."
Although her fellow inmates were nice to her, Hilton said, she sometimes had nightmares in which she feared someone would break into her cell and hurt her.
She called her release from jail "one of the happiest days of my life."
"It's hard to even describe. It was so exciting," she said of walking past a gauntlet of reporters and photographers to an SUV where her mother and father were waiting for her.
The messy ponytail and makeup-free face Hilton displayed when she left the Century Regional Detention Facility were replaced Wednesday with loose, re-blonded locks and camera-ready blue eye-shadow and pink lipstick.
Her path to jail began Sept. 7, when she failed a sobriety test after police saw her weaving down a street in her Mercedes-Benz. Hilton, who said she was hungry and on the way to get a hamburger, pleaded no contest to alcohol-related reckless driving and was sentenced to probation for three years.
In the months that followed she was stopped twice by officers who discovered her driving with a suspended license. The second stop landed her in court and then in jail.