Fyre Festival’s Billy McFarland launching new project for prisoners amid coronavirus
Fyre Festival founder Billy McFarland is incarcerated in Lisbon, OH's Elkton Federal Correctional Institution, serving six years for multiple counts of fraud in connection with the failed festival, and he hasn't been idle. New York Post reports that Billy has a new project in the works, intended to connect prisoners with family and friends on the outside now that visits have been prohibited amid the coronavirus pandemic. Project-315 "seeks to connect and bring together federal inmates with their families, who are affected by the Coronavirus, through the only means possible - by funding a phone call through the prison payphones."
The site continues:
Coronavirus is driving inmates and their families apart. Many families are out of work and struggling to make ends meet. With their Mothers, Fathers, Wives, Husbands, Sisters, Brothers, and Children incarcerated, the distance between families, at a time when they need each other most, only exacerbates the effects of the virus. While family visitation has been canceled across all federal prisons, the BOP (Bureau of Prisons) has thoughtfully responded by granting inmates additional pay phone minutes. As inmates, and their families who they rely on to send money for these phone calls know, the calls are limited to 15-minutes in length, and a full-length call costs $3.15. However, many families can't afford to send their loved ones money to pay to use the phone.
Project-315 wants to provide as many of these inmates and their families with the funds to connect via the prison phone.
Billy also posted a lengthy to "Families and Those Interested in Helping Inmates" on the site. It reads:
Since this is the first time I'm speaking or launching something publicly in quite some time, I believe it's important to address your inevitable questions and concerns, regarding my intentions and the legitimacy of the project, in an effort to help as many people as possible.
First, I'd like you to know that I know how badly I messed up. I lied, deceived, and ultimately hurt many people in pursuit of what I thought would be successful business ventures. What I did was absolutely despicable, and the responsibility for the damages caused starts and ends with me. There's absolutely no excuse for my actions. There's not a day that goes by that my reflection of these choices doesn't make me sick. Ultimately, my mistakes may prove to be unforgivable, but as I sit here and take all of this in, I think back to the day I was sentenced. I promised to dedicate myself to helping those I hurt through the only way I thought appropriate: by living my apology. After nearly 2 years in jail, I believe in this more than ever. To everyone I hurt, I'm extremely sorry. I'll work for the rest of my life to try and make up, in some small way, for what I did. Before we get to Project-315, and what I believe to be the first realized step of living my apology, I'd like to share the impetus of the festival, how it led me to Project-315, and how it'll power my mission of helping everyone I hurt.
Many of you only know me from the Fyre Festival. If I were you, I'd think this is a scam, and that I am full of shit. I'd also question anything I read that tried to convince me otherwise. So, instead of saying that Project-315 is very real, and the people we're trying to help are truly suffering and experiencing pain, I'm going to tell you why I'm doing it, and do my best to focus on the results.
Prior to Fyre, I started and ran a couple of startups. It was through these companies that I came to form a personal belief—and underlying life purpose. Summed up, my discovery was that connecting and bringing people together, who otherwise wouldn't have met, is the most powerful source of value, impact, innovation, and good. I saw the magic in this world occurring in the unique intersection of diverse people, experiences, and ideas.
After spending years building brands that aimed to connect different people through experiences, I found another slice of magic, one that only augmented my theme, in the small islands of the Bahamas. Desperately wanting to share with the world what I "found" - I dreamed of helping everyone experience the magic I was experiencing—the festival was conceived to be the ultimate manifestation of my theme and purpose, in my newfound favorite place in the world.
I legitimately tried to execute the festival, but I clearly made wrong, immoral, and terrible decisions along the way. However, while the festival failed, the resulting prison time has matured my mission, and only solidified my belief that the good that can be created and shared when different people come together is more than potent; it's my source of inspiration to help those I've wronged.
Today I'm launching Project-315, an initiative to help bring together and connect in-need federal inmates and their families who have been affected by the Coronavirus. I believe it's only appropriate that the focus remains on this mission and the people around the world affected by the virus.
Even though my exposure to the effects of Coronavirus are limited compared to yours, as we remain locked-down, I do see what's happening to inmates and their families. As some of us watch our families get sick, we're confronted with what I've learned to be the biggest challenge of incarceration -- not being able to answer the cries and pleas for help from the ones we love.
I know I'm not alone when I say that the usual daily thoughts and dreams of freedom and life beyond bars have given way to a much simpler, yet ultimately more important wish: to simply be able to be there, by the sides of our family and loved ones, who are sick and compromised. As I experience and participate in the usual jail-house conversations, it’s clear they’ve turned to a singular theme: "What-if" scenarios -- what we'd all trade and give up, the additional punishments and pain we'd voluntarily put ourselves through just to help our families not be alone during this crisis. It's in times like these that we discover that the true punishment for our previous mistakes is not the obvious aspect of jail itself, but the veiled consequence of having to helplessly watch as the ones we love suffer.
In normal times, families separated by incarceration look to grasp at any possible contact with each other. Now, when they need us most, we're driven even further apart. Despite visitation having been canceled (and rightfully so), the Bureau of Prisons has really come through for us in granting inmates additional phone privileges. If you haven't experienced prison - whether personally or through a loved one - it may be difficult to understand the impact of a 15-minute prison call. But when the ultimate sentence of distance and separation is imposed, and a family is struggling through sickness, economic challenges, and other hardships as a result of this invisible enemy, just the sound of hearing a loved one's voice can help a distraught family through the hardest of days.
Unfortunately, a great number of the nearly 2,000 inmates I live with don't have the money needed for a full phone call, the cost of which is $3.15. And it doesn't just end with my facility. The cash crunch being experienced by many of our families exacerbates the pain caused from the virus and punishment of distance. The good news is that it doesn't take much to make a big difference.
I'm lucky enough to have family and friends who have experienced, firsthand, the impact of hearing one another's voice. I hope this is just the start, and as families share their stories and tears, we can come together to allow Project-315 to connect many more of the nearly 180,000 federally incarcerated men and women across the country with their families, especially when they - the innocent ones - need us most.
P.O. Box 10
Lisbon, OH 44432
P.S. - A Note on Funding: All donations, except for fees to receive and distribute funds, go directly to inmates and their families. I understand no one may join me in this endeavor. My hope is that once Project-315 proves to be impactful, you’ll also decide to join me. To clarify a few parameters: I am not touching any of the money. I don't have access to the funds. I'm not getting paid. And I'm not receiving any financial benefit. I'm driven to connect and bring people together while helping everyone I hurt, and most importantly, doing it while operating within the allowed boundaries. Regardless of your stance on my mission, I hope it's obvious that I don't want to come back to jail. I also believe it's imperative that we operate with extreme transparency. Weekly accounting will be published, and any questions regarding the accounting records will be answered publicly.
"It’s totally reasonable that people would think this is a scam," Billy told the Post. "The good thing is, this isn’t for me — it’s for the families of inmates, who are suffering because of what their loved ones did."