Ramen Noodles � top US prison currency

  | James Innes

A recent study has suggested ramen noodles have overtaken tobacco as the currency of choice within US prisons! The change reflects a decline in the quality and quantity of American prison food which has fallen as the number of inmates incarcerated increases. In 2012 the US spent US $52.4 bn on prison services, but even this level of spend is failing to keep up with a 343% rise in the prison population between 1980 and 2013.

According to study author, Michael Gibson-Light, ramen is favoured because it is cheap, tasty, and full of calories. He also said that the switch to the noodles reflects a longer-term trend in prisons, and is not a consequence of bans on various tobacco products which have been introduced into the penitentiary system.

The noodles act as an underground currency and may be exchanged for a variety of goods, such as other foodstuffs, soap and toothpaste, clothing and even services such as laundry. They can also be used as gambling stakes in card games or sports betting.

Ramen noodles have long been a popular prison dish, inspiring the well-known book, “Prison Ramen: Recipes and Stories from Behind Bars” which was penned by Gustavo “Goose” Alvarez who spent a decade behind bars on a weapons charge. Alvarez was inspired to write the book after a standoff between a group of inmates which was resolved by cooking a feast together, mainly with ramen noodles.

The book includes several recipes such as Ramen Tamale, which uses Doritos, canned pork and beans, along with the ramen. It also lists the favourite ramen recioes of such celebrities as Slash from Guns N’Roses and Shia LeBeouf.

Hollywood has yet to catch up, as movies and TV shows continue to feature cigarettes and tobacco as the underground currency of choice in their fictional prisons. How long though before we see inmates gambling with noodles or fighting over Japanese soup on our silver screens?

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