Anybody who’s ever seen a prison movie knows that cigarettes are the currency of choice for inmates, with coffin nails being furtively traded for information, goods, or special treatment. Earlier this week the Guardian carried an article suggesting that coffin nails have been replaced — in some prisons, at least — by ramen noodles.
According to a study by a doctoral candidate, the popularity of those square packets of ramen noodles that are ready to be tossed into boiling water with salty “flavor” packets is due to a combination of factors. First, the quality of prison food apparently has declined significantly, because prison populations have increased and spending on prisons and supplies like food hasn’t kept pace. Second, many of the inmates exercise constantly, and those ramen meals are high in calories and give them an energy boost. One inmate actually wrote a book about the ramen culture in prison and provided some favorite inmate ramen “recipes” — like the truly disgusting sounding “Ramen Tamale,” made from Doritos, canned pork and beans, and ramen. (I can only imagine the sodium content of that combination.)
Ramen noodles have been known to start fights in prisons, and allegedly inmates have been killed over their failure to repay ramen “debts.” The Guardian reports that ramen noodles also helped resolved a race riot between African-American and Hispanic inmates in one prison who reached a peace accord and marked the resolution with a ramen feast.
As any college student knows, ramen is one of the cheapest foods you can buy. It’s weird, and sad, to think that ramen packets that can be purchased at any grocery store for pennies have become the currency of choice for inmates, and that human beings are fighting and dying over a hardened brick of noodles that provides a single serving of soup. The “ramen trade” should cause state governments to take a hard look at the quality, and amount, of food available in our prisons.