In Prison, Ramen Is the New Currency

Packaged noodles overtake cigarettes, new study says
Photo: LotsaSmiles Photography via Flickr

Anyone who has watched The Shawshank Redemption knows cigarettes are currency in jail. But these days, according to a new study, they are being supplanted by packages of ramen noodles, the Guardian US reports.

A package of ramen that costs 59 cents at the prison commissary can be traded on the black market for more expensive goods, like a sweatshirt worth nearly $11. The noodles are also being used to buy fresh vegetables smuggled out of the prison’s kitchen.

The soup “is easy to get and it’s high in calories,” Michael Gibson-Light, the doctoral candidate in sociology who authored the study, explains. “A lot of them, they spend their days working and exercising, and they don’t have enough energy to do these things.”

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Another reason the popularity of ramen has been on the rise is that budgets for food in prison have tightened, and inmates, at least in one prison mentioned, are given only two meals on Saturdays and Sundays.

One prisoner explained to Gibson-Light, “One way or another, everything in prison is about money. . . . Soup is money in here. It’s sad but true.”


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