Paul Little: Reflections From Behind Bars

GAINESVILLE, Fla.—The envelope, stuffed fat and thick, arrives on June 20 from the Metropolitan Detention Center in downtown Los Angeles, bulging with seven pages of typed, single-spaced answers to about a dozen questions sent a week earlier to Federal Inmate No. 44902-112. Sealed across the back with an official government stamp indicating it "was processed through special mail procedures for forwarding" and was "neither opened nor inspected," the missive is from Paul F. Little.

While Mr. Little has written other letters in recent weeks that AVN has published and that senior editor Mark Kernes has so well placed into context, such as the July 4 article "Paul Little Comments on Independence Day," this one is different, given its gravitas and frankness.

Convicted after a high-profile, seven-day trial by a 12-person federal jury almost exactly one year earlier in Tampa, Fla. on multiple counts of transporting obscene matter via an interactive computer service and mailing obscene matter, Little was sentenced in October 2008 to 46 months in prison. That's 34 months longer, for those keeping tabs on such things, than the one-year sentence recently handed down by an Oklahoma judge to David Harold Earls for raping a four-year-old girl.

It's also far longer than the one-year, one-day sentence recently handed down to Robert Zicari and Janet Romano by Judge Gary Lancaster in the long-running case of United States v. Extreme Associates. It's even lengthier than the 33 months given in December 2008 to Indiana-based distributor Loren Jay Adams of Hard2Find Videos after he was convicted by a federal jury earlier that year.

According to data from the Federal Bureau of Prisons, Little was one of 1,038 inmates being held at the Los Angeles MDC as of July 30, 2009. He has been housed in this administrative facility since early 2009. In his letter, Little refers to himself not as an inmate, however, but as "Federal Hostage No. 44902-112."

The letter is, at turns, eloquent—a word not generally associated with the often graphic content of Little's movies—passionate and revealing, all the while riddled with an undercurrent of understandable anger at a justice system that has placed him behind bars for nearly four years for making adult movies. At times Little is even apologetic—not about the content of his movies or his past actions, however, but instead about his own writing.

I had previously met Mr. Little once for an in-depth interview at his Altadena home at a time that was after the search of the home but before the indictment against him was handed down. His eloquence then was matched by what appeared in the letter.

"I'd like to point out that I have only an aged typewriter here at my disposal, and not a word processor which would allow me the luxury of working out my answers a little more succinctly," Little writes, adding that he also doesn't have access to a copying machine. It's a far cry from the high-tech recording equipment and electronics at Little's hillside home some 17 miles away in Altadena—a home replete with its own "sky bar" and massive aquarium that was spared by the same jurors who found him guilty.

"The prosecution came very close to illegally commandeering my home, but the jury, for unknown reasons, didn't give that to them," Little writes, adding that in the future he wouldn't put any real estate or other valuable property in his own name.

"I'd rent everything and own nothing," he states. It's a piece of advice that others in the adult movie industry fearing prosecution might do well to heed.

Reaction to the Sentence

"I had a pretty good idea of what I was in for because we had negotiated a range of between 46 and 52 months, down from their first, astonishing recommendation of between 12 and 14 years," Little writes in response to a question about his initial reaction upon learning that U.S. District Judge Susan Bucklew had sentenced him to 46 months in prison.

"Still, I felt extremely agitated, which quickly morphed into blind fury. I was so outraged at the whole ludicrous affair that I wanted to jump on the podium I was standing next to and start kicking shit across the courtroom while telling the judge just what I thought of her and the kangaroo court she operated. I was literally beside myself, but I held it in because my attorneys had told me ahead of time that any punting from the podium would almost certainly result in more time behind bars, as well as being remanded into custody on the spot," Little reflects.

Such anger and outrage certainly seems understandable, as Judge Bucklew openly baited and blasted Little during the sentencing hearing, stating, according to an article in the St. Petersburg Times, "You seem to look at this whole thing as a big joke." During the trial, Judge Bucklew had similarly riled Little's attorneys when she had refused to make the prosecution show all of his movies in their entirety, as is required by the United States Supreme Court's 1973 opinion in Miller v. California.

No Regrets

"Zero. No regrets at all."

That's how Little responds to a query about whether he has any second thoughts about the content he produced that landed him in trouble in Tampa. The movies in question, with their sometimes alliterative titles, were: Max Hardcore Extreme, Volume 20—Euro Edition; Pure Max 19—Euro Edition; Max Hardcore Golden Guzzlers 7—Euro Edition; Fists of Fury 4—Euro Edition; and Planet Max 16—Euro Edition.

"The law needed to be challenged, and I didn't see anyone else doing it, except perhaps Rob Black, but in a different way. If the laws aren't challenged, there are going to be some very bad consequences for our civil rights and personal liberties," Little adds. Black pleaded guilty in March in federal court in Pittsburgh, Pa. to violating federal obscenity laws based on content produced by his company, Extreme Associates, Inc.

Describing the nature of some of his own movies, Little is quite candid about their abject lack of sex appeal.

"I never intended the crazier stuff I do to be sexy and erotic. It's strictly for show, over-the-top excess, just like professional wrestling. It's designed to entertain, for sure, and to show the wilder side of what people can and will do. In that regard, I'm just holding up a mirror and showing people what goes on behind their backs and in the dark recesses of society," Little writes.

Asking and answering his own question about whether it is, at all, worth going to federal prison for a few years, Little somehow seems defiantly upbeat.

"It doesn't seem so right now, but I'm sure I'll look at it differently once I put this episode in the rearview mirror and motor down the road for some distance. I'll be able to say that I stood up to these bastards and didn't take their crap, and I didn't just do it for myself," Little states.

"They can do a lot of bad things to you in here, but one thing they can't do is stop the clock. Eventually your time will be up, and you can get on with your life again. I hope to be out by late 2010 or early 2011 if everything goes alright," he adds.

Lessons for the Adult Industry

"The authorities are as crooked today as they've ever been, and they will do anything to secure a conviction. They will destroy your business and take away your home and all your other possessions without any consideration to the rule of law or even common decency," Little writes when asked what the most important thing is that either he or the adult industry generally can learn from his case.

"Unless you are willing to put your ass on the line and really believe in what you are selling, then you should take up another line of work because no matter what kind of porn you make, you're always going to be under scrutiny and suspicion," Little cautions.

"Today it's my so-called extreme porn, but what about tomorrow? Unless as an industry we push back, the government will keep tightening the screws on us and restrict the content we can produce and sell, until one day, you won't be able to show a set of tits without getting into trouble. Oh, wait. That's already happening," Little quips.

He believes that he was targeted for prosecution because he "was the nail that stood above the rest. Make that 'way above the rest.' I pretty much led the industry in outrageous antics throughout my career, which started in 1992."

An Exercise in Free Speech

"After I had been making movies for a while, it became an exercise in testing the limits of free speech," Little reflects, adding that he has "always enjoyed the role of agent-provocateur."

"I've been involved in all manner of social protest since high school and college, in Milwaukee and Madison, Wisc. From Apartheid to Iran-Contra to anti-war activities, you'd find me and my gang out on the streets stirring things up," Little states.

Little is trying mightily to keep up this exercise in free speech from behind bars, noting that the distribution of his movies was "decimated by the conviction" and that his Internet business was "broadsided when the government stole my long-time home website,"

"Fortunately, I was able to keep all the content, and I have since started two new sites, based completely in Europe, called and Even with both of these sites, it's going to take a long time to get back the business we lost," Little writes.

Prison as Rehab

In response to a question about how long it took to adjust to life behind bars, Paul Little gives one of his most personally revealing answers.

"I should be getting transferred to another larger institution in the next few months, like Long Beach or Lompoc, which are both minimum security and both have the Residential Drug and Alcohol Program, or RDAP as it's known," Little writes, adding that successful completion of the program can reduce the time he spends behind bars.

"I don't have a drug problem, but I do have a DUI from the state of California and a family history of alcohol abuse, so I figure this is as good of a time as any to kick it for good, before it causes any further trouble or long-term health issues. So, in a sense, my prison stay is a form of rehab for me."

While prison may be a therapeutic form of rehabilitation for Little, he also makes it perfectly clear that life behind bars is anything but enjoyable. This is not life on a southern California porn shoot with beautiful women.
He gets up every morning at 5:00 and, after breakfast, spends his time working on the welding crew "putting metal together or repairing broken down equipment, fences or cells." After lunch, the detention center is locked down for an afternoon count of the prisoners.

"The most amazing thing that I have found here at this prison is that slavery still exists. I had no idea when I was sentenced months earlier in Florida that I would be serving a term of hard labor for a ridiculous and insulting rate of 12 cents per hour. As inmates designated to this institution, we are expected to serve at the pleasure of the warden on the work cadre, starting at 5 in the morning, until such time as we are finished with our labors. Those range from cooking and cleaning to skilled positions such as electricians, plumbers and welders," Little writes.

The Future

So, what does Little want to do upon his release from federal confinement?

"When I get out of this hellhole, I'm going to take some time off and evaluate what I want to do for a next act. I feel like I've done my duty to the free speech movement, and now it's time for someone else to step up to the plate," Little writes when asked about whether he will continue to make movies when he is released.

"I'm still young and I'm good at business, so I'm not sure what I'll be doing after I'm released. But I know it's going to be exciting and take me around the world."

Any place in the world surely must be better for Little at this stage in his life than one located behind bars.

Clay Calvert, a member of the State Bar of California, is the Brechner Eminent Scholar of Mass Communication at the University of Florida in Gainesville.