Why can't T.I. seem to stay out of prison?

OPINION - What possessed T.I.'s handlers to allow him to make his trip from Arkansas to an Atlanta halfway house in a bus fit for a president?...

Luther Vandross was outed as gay after his death.

After less than 24 hours of freedom hip-hop star T.I. is already back in police custody. No official statement has been released but it’s clear the Federal Bureau of Prisons couldn’t accept that the rapper rolled out in a tinted luxury tour bus and caravan after his release from prison yesterday.

Celebrity gossip website TMZ is reporting that the beef stems from T.I. misinforming prison officials about the kind of vehicle he would be taking from prison to a halfway house where he is supposed to serve out a 1-month sentence. He told them he’d be riding to Atlanta in a nondescript van, not a superstar tour bus.

When will he learn? T.I. has spent almost as much time in trouble with authorities as he’s spent being a rap artist. So much of his previous run-ins with the law, though — dating back to 2007 — were avoidable.

What possessed T.I.’s handlers to allow him to make his trip from Arkansas to an Atlanta halfway house in a bus fit for a president? It wasn’t like T.I. spent time in some local lockup and could thumb his nose at authorities like he did in 2004 when he filmed a video in Fulton County jail. You can’t play with the feds like that. Still, T.I. seems to not want to break the relationship he has with getting on authorities’ nerves.

When you’re a young, black and famous rapper, you’re no fan of authority. But, jail cells shouldn’t be such a part of the narrative of Clifford Harris’s life — in, out, repeat. For this latest infraction, probably filmed by VH1 for his new T.I. reality show, the outcome is most likely little more than a slap on the wrist and a short return to prison. But why does T.I. push the line when it comes to second and third chances?

There should be a Guinness Book record for shortest prison release for a rapper? Add that to T.I.’s Grammy shelf.

When T.I. was facing federal gun charges almost four years ago, he vowed to turn things around and encourage others to walk a straight path, even taking on a whopping 1,000 hours of community service. He visited schools, told kids and young adults about avoiding the trap and not living like a thug. He appeared before television cameras in a suit, hoping to save his newly minted Hollywood image. But he’s still acting like the T.I. from back in the days, the same guy who kicked off his career filming a music video which violated his probation.

Maybe it’s just part of the arc of his life story that he’s going back to his roots, a hood star always looking over his shoulder to avoid jail time, while rapping.

I had a chance to interview T.I. in Las Vegas, when he was releasing his clothing line A.K.O.O. in 2008. He was calm and humble as he sat on a couch next to his right hand and manager, Jason Geter, the guy who met Tip from Bankhead so long ago and helped co-create “T.I.” the superstar. At the time I met him, T.I. was awaiting his federal prison sentence and staying away from problems. He seemed clear and focused on avoiding anything that brought him in contact with drugs, drink or fights. He appeared to be walking the walk and talking the talk.

When word of after-parties and Vegas wildness came into the conversation, T.I. snapped, “Man, you know I can’t be going to no parties.” The feds had him worried. He was all about working.

Back then, at least, he seemed to be on track to redemption. Focused on his money and brand, less on living against the law. When you’re a millionaire, just follow the rules and make your money. Rap stardom shouldn’t make you think you’re above the law.

T.I. built his fame off his outlaw reputation, but it was his rap skill that made him a star. Paying more attention to honing his skills in rap and film acting are what will keep Tip from Bankhead on the right path. Trying to live out the reputation of T.I. the star might always yield the same results, a trip back to a cell.