As the singer struggles with life in a psych ward, her parents accuse her pal Sam Lutfi of cruelty and abuse

By Karen S. Schneider Jill Smolowe
February 18, 2008 12:00 PM

On the bright, sunny wing of the Stewart and Lynda Resnick Neuropsychiatric Hospital that has been home to Britney Spears since she was admitted on Jan. 31, the singer is allowed to wear her own clothes—and, like others at the 136-bed unit on the UCLA campus—make use of a common kitchen to fix a snack and an open-air deck to grab a smoke. She is not permitted to use her cell phone—but if she can come up with the spare change, she has access to a pay phone on the floor. And so it was that on Super Bowl Sunday she called her father, Jamie, who was working as a caterer at a party, to ask him to visit her. In court papers filed in his successful bid to temporarily take over his daughter’s affairs, Spears says he arrived at the hospital to find her lying in bed. He leaned over to kiss her, but she turned her head away.

“I love you,” he told her. “No, you don’t,” Britney responded. She got out of bed and said, “The doctor told me you are keeping me in here.” When her father denied it, she said, “Somebody’s lying. You put me in here.” After a nurse assured her that it was her doctors, not her dad, who had committed her, she said, “Come on, Daddy. Let’s get out of here. Take my hand and let’s walk out of here together.”

“I wish I could,” he told her. “But I can’t.”

And so goes a sad new day in the life of the princess of pop, whose out-of-control lifestyle—sources say she had not slept for three days when she was admitted to UCLA—has cost her the keys to the kingdom: from the right to see sons Preston, 2, and Jayden, 17 months, to the ability to spend her hard-earned money. One day after Dr. Deborah Nadel, a Santa Monica-based psychiatrist who had been treating Spears as an outpatient for a week, issued the request for an involuntary 72-hour lockup—now extended to 14 days—an L.A. court named her father, 55, co-temporary conservator of her estate, in control of her estimated $100 million empire.

Could the force that sold upwards of 70 million CDs truly have fallen so far? According to her mother: farther. In a stunning affidavit presented to the court on Feb. 1 to secure a temporary restraining order against best buddy Sam Lutfi (see box), Lynne, 52, described a chaotic scene on Jan. 28 in which her daughter wandered around her Beverly Hills home, drugged, confused and showing “the understanding of a very young girl.”

Ironically, Spears’ latest hospitalization and the return of her parents to the scene had been set into motion by Lutfi, who had finally persuaded Spears to seek treatment from Dr. Nadel, a psychiatrist recommended by her lawyers.

According to her father’s court documents, “Britney is currently in severe mental distress” and suffering “from several mental health disorders which are not being treated.” That distress showed in the weeks preceding the UCLA hospitalization: fighting with on-again, off-again beau Adnan Ghalib, 35, as well as Lutfi, 33, taking paparazzi on high-speed chases and just breaking down in tears.

On Jan. 28, Lynne—who had used Lutfi as a reliable conduit to her daughter since their failed reunion in October—arrived from Kentwood, La., and joined a small group inside Britney’s Beverly Hills home including Lutfi, Ghalib and Alli Sims for what a source calls a “bonding session.” But it did not go well. Later, in her court declaration, Lynne accused Lutfi of drugging Britney, verbally abusing her, cutting off all phone lines in the house and disposing of cell phone chargers in an attempt to control her. Lutfi declined PEOPLE’s request to address the accusations in Lynne’s file. But a source close to him says, “Sam’s not worried. He can handle this.” Indeed, Lutfi had told PEOPLE a few days earlier that he “knew the family would try and force him out of the picture. [They] are trying to look like heroes, swooping in after all the dirty work is done. Their worry is being financially cut off.” Sources in the Spears camp vehemently deny the accusations. “Jamie has a job. And Lynne is a simple, Christian person, not flashy. She’s always in jeans and sweatshirts. She doesn’t care about money.”

With the court siding with Jamie, Lutfi, the man who was a companion to Spears, who was at the hospital 30 minutes after she arrived—and ran to get her In-N-Out burgers the next day—is now barred from having any contact with Spears in any way: phone, fax, text or e-mail. How Britney feels about her parents assuming control of both her life and her finances is unclear; she has had strained relations with them for years. At a hearing on Feb. 4 estate attorney Adam Streisand claimed she had hired him to try to have her dad’s conservatorship rejected—to no avail. Why? A court-appointed attorney who had met with Spears in the hospital testified that she “does not understand the nature of these proceedings” and “lacks the capacity” to hire representation. “Britney’s feelings toward her parents are off and on,” says a family friend. “One minute she is begging for their presence, the next she wants nothing to do with them. But they are actively trying to get her help.”

If there is any silver lining in Spears’ latest hospitalization, it is that, unlike her trip to Cedars-Sinai on Jan. 3, she did not resist when Nadel issued the 72-hour hold. She was at home with her mom and Sims when, at 1:10 a.m., a tight formation of emergency vehicles arrived at her front entrance; twelve minutes later she was on her way to the UCLA hospital—no screaming, no standoff. During her 14-day hold, her doctor can discharge her to outpatient treatment if she is deemed well enough or apply to keep her longer—a move UCLA psychiatrist Dr. Carole Lieberman (who is not treating Spears) would advise. “I hope the psychiatrists have the courage to keep her there more than 30 days. If she starts cooperating and the psychiatrists take her off the hold, she’s so impulsive she might decide to leave. She needs six months in a psychiatric hospital and [to] work with [doctors] in therapy to figure out her underlying diagnosis.”

While she stays at UCLA, Spears will not get star treatment. Instead of the paparazzi following her, she will likely be monitored not just by doctors but, since UCLA is a teaching hospital, students for whom she is not a celebrity; she’s homework. “The place is locked up tight,” says a former UCLA student who visited a friend at the clinic in 2006. “You had to be escorted by one of the big guys with a set of keys. It was claustrophobic.” And rigid. In her unit, Spears is expected to make her bed and change her linens, eat at meal-times: breakfast around 7:30 a.m., about the time she used to come in from a night of partying, lunch at noon and dinner shortly after 5 p.m. Though she can dine in her room, she is encouraged to mingle with other patients in the dining room, which, like the private bed and bathrooms, is “very drab,” says addiction specialist Marty Brenner. Adds a psychologist who practices at UCLA: “If I were looking for a hospital that was like a hotel—more luxurious—I’d go to Cedars-Sinai. But if I were really sick I’d go to UCLA. Doctors, nurses, everyone will work round the clock to help patients.”

Spears’ stay could even help her reconnect with her children. “Hospitalization is tragic,” says Mary Lund, a Santa Monica-based clinical psychologist who has been evaluating and mediating custody cases for 19 years. “But many people who are hospitalized are able to get help and function better—including in their parenting.” And while nearly everything in Britney’s life is up in the air—from her custody case to her father’s power over her estate (another hearing is set for Feb. 14) to the length of her stay at UCLA—her own goal in life remains unchanged. Even in the fogged mental state her mother described when she was at home shortly before being taken to the hospital, Spears voiced the same sentiment over and over: “When do I get to see my babies?”