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For their own good
Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
That's the message a Hillsborough judge sent Monday to American Idol finalist Jessica Sierra, whose addictions and anger flareups have played out like an East Coast version of the Britney Spears drama.
With Inside Edition and radio talk show host Dr. Drew Pinsky in town for the hearing, Circuit Judge Daniel Perry said he was "really reluctant" but willing to send the 22-year-old Tampa singer to California for a one-year, inpatient drug and alcohol treatment program.
He promised prison if she messes up again.
"You're going to get one chance and one chance only," Perry said.
Sierra has been jailed since Dec. 1 on misdemeanor charges of disorderly intoxication and obstructing an officer without violence. Tampa police arrested her in Ybor City and said she offered to perform a sex act on a police officer to avoid going to jail.
The incident resulted in Sierra being charged with violating the probation she had just begun serving for battery and cocaine possession.
News of a sex tape and pregnancy followed on the Web. Sierra's supporters and attorney did not comment on the sex tape Monday but confirmed that the 2005 American Idol contestant is pregnant.
"She's in jail, and she's pregnant, you know," said her father, Joseph Sierra. "What else can go wrong?"
They described the treatment as a lifesaving measure.
Pinsky, an addiction medicine specialist, said he treated Sierra for three weeks as part of the new VH1 reality series Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew, which debuts Thursday. But she needs sustained, intensive treatment to improve her chances of recovery, he said.
The Pasadena Recovery Center, where Sierra underwent treatment for the show, has offered to provide the yearlong, "six-figure treatment" to Sierra for free, said attorney John Fitzgibbons. It will include 24-hour supervision and medical and psychiatric care.
Sierra has no money of her own to pay for such assistance, he said.
"She's going to be dead" without it, Fitzgibbons said. "If she doesn't get profound help, her prognosis is terrible."
Her mother, who had a history of drug abuse and prostitution, died of an accidental drug overdose in 2004.
Perry, the judge, was in no mood for sob stories. He scolded Sierra and looked unimpressed when she called her night out in Ybor "a dumb choice."
He ordered her to remain in jail until arrangements can be made for a flight to California. He said he had concerns about her using the treatment as a stepping stone to a career as a recovering addict.
"This is not a career," Perry said. "I don't want her giving interviews. I don't want her on TV. I don't want anybody glamorizing the fact that she's a drug addict.
"I'm over that."
Once her residential treatment ends, Sierra must serve two more years of probation, for a total of three. She admitted to violating her initial probation.
She pleaded no contest to the new misdemeanors and was sentenced to time served.
Sierra's grandparents, father and sister attended Monday's hearing. They said they are grateful for the help she's being offered.
She is scared, they said. So are they.
"I don't want to lose my sister," said Jennifer Sierra, 23.