State Prisoners Access the Internet? The Next Closest Thing

Although the presence of internet-enabled tools seems ubiquitous, there are places where that is not true. Prisons is one of those places. Recognizing the importance to learning how to use to digital tools Ray Pulsipher with his ten plus years of technology related experience doing everything from providing technical support to serving as lead programmer on web development products, Brian Walsh with his vision and others sought out the next best thing—offline digital environments that look and feels like the real thing. Want to know how they did it, then read on.

You can do it too. Although there are some overhead costs, this initiative is held together primarily open source free software.

Build a highway:

  • Speed: Nas4Free is a program that streamlines the sharing of files among several computers connected to a network. Under normal circumstances this can be a pretty taxing job for one or more networked hard drives. (NAS stands for Network-Attached Storage).
  • Lanes: Allows several virtual machines (allow you to run other operating systems within your current operating system – the operating systems will run as if they’re just another program on your computer) to run concurrently on one unit. For more information visit

Highway breakdown

Retrieved from:

Retrieved from:

  • Windows 2008 Server: Standard Microsoft domain server with active directory. Essentially the first check point. It can be integrated with the other VM so that they only log in once.
  • Firewall/Router:  Keeps everything in its own lane, in order.
    • SmoothWall: Good open source router and firewall that allows segmenting and creating sandbox
  • Learning applications
    • Webworks: Math exercises comes pre-packaged as a Linux install
  • Learning Management Systems: Can be used by instructors to do a variety of things including,  manage classes, administer exams and archive course material. Options for students include the ability to upload assignments, hold virtual discussions and monitor progress.
    • Canvas & Moodle are two common in the university environment. Blackboard & WebCT are other well known ones.
  • Kloxo Server: Free web server management tool with a lot of cool features. Some things Ray has built into it includes: Auto forward all emails sent through the system and eliminating delays for “site not found” aka removed DNS delays
    • Contains web server tools (Rackspace; leangator) and email server and allows students to work in cpanel-like environment where they can design webpages, experiment with MySQL and more.
  • Khan Academy Lite: Khan Academy is an organization committed to providing a free world-class education for anyone anywhere. The “lite” verison is a hand picked collection of videos from the site that can be made available upon request.
  • eGranary: Described as “The Internet in a Box”, it is a collection of hand selected websites (e.g. Wikipedia) that have been packaged up for offline use. It costs between $5,000.00 – $7,000.00 and is a few terabytes in size and should be ran independent of your other systems.

Closing Thoughts

If you got this far, you are probably thinking, “gosh this sure does seem like a lot.” The hardest part of getting this sort of project off the ground in your location may be finding someone who is technically savvy. Don’t be in despair you may already have all the human capital resources at your facility.

What to look for (in one person or in between several people):

  • Someone with standard IT skills (ITS1): Person has the knowledge and skills in computer support, programming, or maintenance (for additional details click here).
  • Someone familiar with setting up and running virtual systems

Need help getting started?

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