What you need to know:
- Married to the Game: A Story of Love and Waiting is a story about Lydia Harris, a native of Houston, Texas, who, for ages, was popularly referred to as 'The Woman Behind Death Row Records'.
- Lydia married Michael 'Harry-O' Harris in Lancaster State Prison and visited him every weekend for over three decades.
Married to the Game: A Story of Love and Waiting is a story about Lydia Harris, a native of Houston, Texas, who, for ages, was popularly referred to as 'The Woman Behind Death Row Records'. For decades, she displayed her unwavering loyalty to her incarcerated husband, Michael 'Harry-O' Harris, who was imprisoned in 1988 and wrongfully convicted of money laundering and attempted murder.
Michael was moved to several maximum security prisons, including Soledad, Pelican Bay, Lancaster State and Tehachapi, all located in California, USA. Lydia married him in Lancaster State Prison and visited him every weekend for over three decades.
He was a cocaine trafficker during the 1980s and by the age of 26, he was distributing narcotics to 12 different American states. He dealt in huge amounts of cocaine, so much so that Colombian drug lord Mario Biabona had to strike a distribution deal with him.
In the late 1980s, Michael terminated his notorious association with drug trade and directed his criminal proceeds into real estate and legitimate entrepreneurship, becoming an innovative and prosperous businessman. He also ventured into theatrical tapestry and became the first black person to ever produce a Broadway show.
The show was called Checkmates and it gave Hollywood icons Danzel Washington and Vanessa Williams their first acting breaks. Through one of his acquaintances, Eric Whitley, Michael met Marion 'Suge' Knight, a Compton native and a former professional American football player with the Las Vegas Rams. After sustaining a career-ending injury, Suge became R&B singer Bobby Brown's bodyguard and launched his music publishing company, Knight Publishing, to help artistes access their royalties from unscrupulous music executives.
Michael meticulously developed a business plan at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Los Angeles for his new company, Godfather Entertainment, in 1991, while he was still incarcerated. Godfather was a parent institution that was supposed to include a music label, Death Row Records, movie production, concerts, events management and merchandising.
Suge, who had ulterior motives, convinced Michael that they could be equal share partners and Michael invested $1.5 million seed money into the venture. He placed his wife Lydia Harris' name in the contractual agreement to represent his share of the company. Lydia went on to lead Death Row Records into becoming the most dominant purveyor of music from 1992 to 1997, releasing over 10 studio albums that sold at least two million copies each.
Michael instructed his personal lawyer, David Kenner, to serve as his advocate and legal entertainment representative for the Godfather organisation. Kenner was an illustrious veteran attorney and part of lawyers who took up lucrative drug cases.
During Death Row Records' meteoric rise, Lydia expected to receive remuneration from the company for Michael's investments. Initially, Suge and Kenner insisted that it would take 90 days to finalise payments from Death Row's distribution company Interscope. The wait quickly turned to years.
Each time Lydia spoke to Kenner about it, he responded with deception, stating that the business was still recouping production costs and operating at a loss. He mistook Lydia’s kindness for weakness.
Kenner, whose marriage had disintegrated, became infatuated with Michael's attractive ex-girlfriend and actress, Veronica Davis, and began an intimate relationship with her. Veronica was a stunning actress and model of German and African descent.
When Suge noticed that Kenner had become smitten with Veronica but was insecure about her resilient feelings for Michael, he convinced Kenner that Veronica would leave him immediately after Michael came out of prison.
From then on, Kenner desisted from working on Michael's release and appointed himself the new president of Death Row Records, drawing an astronomical salary, after dismissing the previous president, Hank Caldwell. Kenner also continued to operate as the principal business attorney for the record label. Between 1991 and 1997, Interscope paid Death Row over $80 million in royalties, $13 million of which went to Kenner's law firm.
Michael continued languishing in prison, and Suge eventually appointed himself CEO of the corporation. Lydia reasserted her authority by contacting Interscope executive Jimmy Iovine to inform him that she and Michael were preparing to file a lawsuit against Death Row and Interscope. Their company, Godfather Entertainment, owned 50 per cent of Death Row Records, whose success had increased Interscope’s estimated value to $500 million. Death Row was individually worth $250 million and Godfather’s share of the company was $125 million.
Lydia's lawsuit infuriated Suge and Kenner, who then plotted to murder her. When the killers they hired broke into Lydia’s residence at The Valley in Los Angeles, they shot her Rottweiler, and ransacked the spacious house. Fortunately, she wasn't present.
Kenner then visited Michael in Tehachapi correctional facility and handed him a bottled soft drink secretly drugged with cyanide, in an effort to assassinate him. Michael ended up with temporary paralysis, but luckily survived. On March 9, 2005, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Ronald Sohigian awarded Lydia $107 million in damages after her lawsuit. Donald Trump pardoned Michael on the last day of his presidency: January 20, 2021. He had spent 33 years in prison.
The writer is a novelist, a Big Brother Africa 2 Kenyan representative and founder of Jeff's Fitness Center (@jeffbigbrother).