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Ramen noodles are replacing cigarettes as currency among prisoners in US jails

A study suggests noodles are “the most valuable US prison commodity.”

Image: Shutterstock/Ideaunlock

RAMEN NOODLES ARE replacing the once popular cigarettes as a form of currency among prisoners in the US, a new study has found.

The study entitled “Must Work for Food: The Politics of Nutrition and Informal Economy in an American Prison” found that inmates are trying to figure out better ways to feed themselves as the past few decades have seen steady decreases in the quality and quantity of inmate food.

Author Michael Gibson-Light, a doctoral candidate in the University of Arizona School of Sociology, said that prison cost-cutting and cost-shifting was happening worldwide.

“Prisoners are so unhappy with the quality and quantity of prison food they receive that they have begun relying on ramen noodles – a cheap, durable food product – as a form of money in the underground economy,” he said.

“Because it is cheap, tasty, and rich in calories, ramen has become so valuable that it is used to exchange for other goods.”

Bargaining chips

Those other goods include other food items, clothing, hygiene products, and even services, such as laundry and bunk cleaning. Others use ramen noodles as bargaining chips in gambling when playing card games or participating in football pools, added Gibson-Light.

And ramen noodles are not merely replacing cigarettes but also stamps and envelopes as forms of in-demand currency.

Over 12 months (May 2015 to May 2016) Gibson-Light conducted interviews with nearly 60 inmates and prison staff members in a male US prison, where he also observed prisoners involved in work.

The author called for more research into what the reduction in food could mean for the care of prisoners.

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