Rapper T.I.

UNIVERSAL CITY, Calif. — MTV is tryng to help T.I. spend as little time in prison as possible.

The rapper, whose real name is Clifford Harris, was arrested in October 2007 on his way to perform at the BET Hip Hop Awards in Atlanta. Eventually, he pleaded guilty to federal weapons charges — possession of unregistered machine guns and silencers and possession of firearms by a convicted felon.

"I made terrible choices due to a sense of paranoia. … It was really just a lack of thought," T.I. told TV critics.

His plea agreement requires him to complete at least 1,000 hours (of a total of 1,500 hours) of community service, talking to youth groups about the dangers of guns, gangs and drugs.

When he's sentenced on March 29, he will spend about 12 months in prison — time that could be increased or decreased depending on how he fulfills his community service.

And "T.I.'s Road to Redemption: 45 Days to Go," which debuts tonight at 10 on MTV, is part of that community service. It's sort of an eight-episode "Scared Straight," with T.I. trying to get at-risk young people to get back on the straight and narrow.

T.I. said he doesn't think his "status as a celebrity" got him a better deal, but he acknowledged that his "influence" did. (He originally faced up to 10 years in prison.)

"If I was a celebrity with no influence to young people, who could not lead them in a positive direction, I would not have gotten this agreement," he said. "So I don't think it's my status as a celebrity. I think it's my influence as a person.

"I think it's the credibility of my life that I've lived, the things I have been able to get through, the things that I have witnessed, the things that I have learned from my mistakes, and also the previous community service that I had been doing even before" his most recent arrest.

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"I had been working diligently with the Boys and Girls Clubs. … I have my own foundation, the King Foundation. We do tons of things for the inner city across America for Christmas, back-to-school, Mother's Day. I have a list of things that I was doing even prior to this agreement and arrangement that I think put me in high regard to be considered for an arrangement like this."

And he certainly seems sincere on the MTV show about helping young people avoid his mistakes.

But it's impossible not to wonder how much of this is because he sincerely wants to help and how much is because he's looking to spend as little time in prison as possible.

You'll have to decide that for yourself.

E-mail: pierce@desnews.com