January 21, 2021

By Bertram Keller

Contributing Writer


Former President Donald Trump commuted Death Row Records co-founder Michael ‘Harry-O’ Harris after serving 32 years of a 25-year to life sentence for conspiracy to commit first-degree murder and drug trafficking. Harris, 59, was released Tuesday from Lompoc Federal Correctional Institution.

History shows that the cocaine trade throughout the 1980s gave many underground entrepreneurs a chance to finance their dreams. Harris oversaw a multi-million-dollar drug empire that was connected with Columbian suppliers, and at the age of 26, Harry-O was a made millionaire.

When Harris decided it was time to leave the drug business and seek more legitimate goals, he found himself investing in real estate and various businesses. In 1992, from behind bars, Harris granted $1.5 million in seed money to Suge Knight to start the iconic record label, Death Row Records. Death Row went on to make classic records that featured iconic artists like Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, and Tupac Shakur.

Harris also invested in a play called, “Stepping into Tomorrow” that featured the daughters of assassinated Black leaders Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X, as well as the daughters of Harry Bellafonte and Sidney Poitier. Not to forget, he also produced a Broadway play called “Checkmates,” which featured Ruby Dee, Paul Winnfield and an up-and-coming star, Denzel Washington.

Despite that, it was Harris’s journalism and philanthropic efforts from behind bars that earned the widespread support endorsing for his release. The Death Row Records co-founder was said to have mentored several prisoners about becoming entrepreneurs, and he reportedly completed business and journalism degrees during his time inside.

According to court record, in 2017, Harris wrote a federal judge saying, (Mercury News, 2020) “On the outside, when I was selling drugs, I thought I knew everything … My criminal activity felt victimless to me.

It was just business. I didn’t think about what it was doing to real flesh and blood people—how the drugs ruined their lives … I was selfish, inconsiderate and worse. It truly pains me, and shames me, to think about who I was and what I did.” Later in the letter, Harris added, “I will never re-offend. My shame and desire for redemption won’t allow it.”

Despite Harris’ promises, he was denied an early release, and this was the latest of several failed legal attempts to free Harris according to records.

 Harry-O has been fighting to get out of prison for years, but recently, there has been a more determined effort for his release since contracting COVID-19. He was also stricken with Guillain-Barré Syndrome, a rare neurological disorder that attacks the immune system and nervous system— located outside of the brain and spinal cord.

Rap producer-turned-activist, Weldon Angelos, who received his own pardon from Trump in December, said in an interview with AllHipHop.com, “I knew about Harry-O and one of my partners had reached out to him about a year ago, asking if he needed help. [Harry-O] never got that letter … I knew Snoop wanted our help. Snoop called me like 2:30 in the morning on December 27th, wanting to get on with me and Hollis and (other members of the group) to talk about Harry-O. And we set up a call with Alice Johnson. Alice Johnson is my good friend who has President Trump’s ear. President Trump has given Alice the opportunity to provide cases that he will grant if she signs off on it. I have worked with the White House closely and gotten commutations through President Trump. Really Alice Johnson is the one that got this done.”

Hip-Hop Mogul, Snoop Dogg expressed his appreciation for Trump using his final hours as president to commute Harris’ sentence. Snoop said, "They did some great work while they was in there, and they did some great work on their way out. Let them know I love what they did," Snoop continued to add that, "It is amazing what the work of God can actually bring to life to make people understand that there is a God."

Angelos said Harris sent him an email saying, (AllHipHop, 2020) “Thank God. God is great. It feels like the weight of the world was lifted off my shoulders.”

With just hours to go before leaving office, Trump pardoned 74 people and commuted the sentences of 70 others. The list of 143 people went public early Wednesday morning. Other famous cases include Trump’s former chief strategist, Steve Bannon, his former top fundraiser Elliott Broidy, and rappers, Lil Wayne and Kodak Black. 

Category: News