Instant Ramen is the new currency in prison, replacing tobacco. There are several reasons for this shift from tobacco to soup – it tastes good, it’s easy to cook, it’s very cheap and it lasts longer than most foods.
Ramen noodles are the new tobacco – according to a study by Michael Gibson-Light – a doctoral candidate at the University of Arizona.
Gibson-Light says that inmates are very dissatisfied with the amount of food they receive in prison and the poor quality. This is why they started to eat ramen noodles. The noodles are starting to replace proper food because they are cheap, rich in calories and they taste good.
Ramen’s got so much added value, that it is now exchanged for other goods. Over the course of a year, Gibson-Light surveyed sixty male prisoners and staff members from an unnamed state-run prison. It was part of a greater investigation looking at how prisoners respond to declining prison services.
What he found was that as prison budgets shrink, some of the cost of taking care of prisoners is going to inmates and their families and support networks.
Prisoners now use ramen packs to negotiate for other food items, clothes, hygiene products or even services. One time, Gibson-Light noticed inmates use ramen packs instead of chips while playing cards. One prisoner told him that “soup is money in here.”
Gibson Light also noticed that prisoners now prefer soup over what was considered to be a luxury item – tobacco products. Many prisoners complained that the prison served food considered “inedible” or too little to keep them full throughout the day.
Before 2000, inmates who were jailed at the prison in question had received three hot meals a day. A couple of years later, the second meal was replaced by a cold sandwich and a small bag of chips. Weekend lunches were eliminated and portions were reduced. This left the inmates hungry and unhappy.
Prison expenditures went down by 5.6 percent in just one year, between 2009 and 2010. That’s because the Federal Bureau of Prisons started to spend less and less on inmate welfare.
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