In the 1980s, Michael “Harry-O” Harris was known as the Godfather on the streets of South Central Los Angeles.
Working with gangs like the Bloods and Crips, plus the Colombian cartel, Harris was in charge of a nationwide drug trafficking operation that brought in nearly $2 million daily.
Harris says he tried to do right by his community by using the money to invest in local businesses. Despite his good intentions, his past caught up to him, and he was arrested not only for drug trafficking, but for attempted murder — a crime he says he didn’t commit.
Later the victim recanted, and the attempted murder charges were dropped, but Harris continued to spend time behind bars for the drug charge — for a total of 33 years.
“I have to take responsibility for my part,” he said. “The day that you take responsibility for what you do is the day your life starts to change immediately.”
In an exclusive interview and special edition of “LA Stories,” Harris opens up to host Giselle Fernandez about his time in prison. He not only created mentorship programs for fellow inmates, but he also helped build one of the most prolific music labels in the world.
Harris teamed up with Suge Knight to co-found Death Row Records. The label helped launch the careers of legendary hip-hop artists such as Snoop Dogg, Dr. Dre and Tupac Shakur.
Harris tells Fernandez about the highs and lows of the working with Death Row Records, which he helped manage from behind bars.
“One of the things that rap provides for communities of color, it provided an avenue to share our stories,” he said. “I noticed one thing that a lot of people had in common: Music soothes even the people that you think that cannot be soothed.”
In 2021, in a surprise pardon by then-President Donald Trump, Harris was granted his freedom after spending 33 years behind bars. While many thought Death Row Records had shut down permanently, Harris went right back to work once freed, partnering with Snoop Dogg as the COO of the all-new Death Row Records.
Together, they plan to rebuild Death Row, branding it as an NFT label and operating in the metaverse. Harris hopes to celebrate young voices from communities of color and give them a platform to share their stories.
Additionally, Harris is building a network called Philanthropy TV in order to shine a light on the extraordinary stories of people giving back. For Harris, this is a chance to right the wrongs he committed in the past — and a chance at redemption.
“I’m always looking for that light in other people, no matter what race they are. And I think that’s what’s important. I want to be the person that they say, ‘It’s a better place since he was here.'”