Gary Fine of Prisoner Express named CWSP Supervisor of the Year
By Ashlee McGandy
The Einhorn Center's End of Year Student & Senior Celebration at 
at Cornell University in Ithaca, NY, Monday, April 29, 2024.
The Einhorn Center's End of Year Student & Senior Celebration at at Cornell University in Ithaca, NY, Monday, April 29, 2024.

Gary Fine, director of Durland Alternatives Library and founder of Prisoner Express, is the 2024 Community Work Study Program (CWSP) Supervisor of the Year. Grace Maines ’23 nominated Fine for providing “unwavering support, guidance and encouragement” to student employees at Prisoner Express.

“My time at Prisoner Express has been a transformative part of my college experience and undoubtedly one of the highlights of my time at Cornell,” said Maines, who worked at Prisoner Express for three years. “The environment that [Gary] fostered enabled me to exercise my own creativity and ambition in a welcoming team environment where everyone’s ideas and thoughts were valued.”

Prisoner Express, which is a program of the Durland Alternatives Library, provides information, education and opportunities for creative self-expression to incarcerated men and women throughout the United States. Thousands of prisoners have participated in the program through ongoing distance learning opportunities in creative writing, science, philosophy, history, arts and crafts, meditation, chess, human development and fitness, among others.

Most of these individual programs are created by Cornell students and are inspired by their interests and expertise. CWSP students also take part in instructing the hundreds of student volunteers who come to the library every year. All mail to and from correctional facilities is routed through the library, offering students a space to connect to prisoners while their privacy is respected and protected. 

“The shared letters between inmates and the Prisoner Express workers and volunteers are treasured by both students and prisoners alike,” said Fine. “While the original impetus of the Prisoner Express program was to uplift and educate incarcerated individuals, it is clear that the experience of doing meaningful humanitarian work has given many of the student workers and volunteers uplifting experiences, and given them new insights about what is important in life and a career.”

Prisoner Express is one of about 50 CWSP employers. Through CWSP, Cornell students can use Federal Work-Study or Cornell Tradition funding to work for Tompkins County nonprofit organizations, schools and municipalities, or in positions on campus that improve the quality of life for community residents. Employers of the Year are nominated by their CWSP or Cornell Tradition student employees.