- Ricksel Penullar
Prison Food Currency
Instant ramen: It's warm, flavorful,quick, cheap and filling it's the chosen favorite among college kids and inmates across America. The Massachusetts department of corrections says that its top sold item in prison is Ramen noodles. Ramen has become like cash among American prisoners because behind bars it's the only thing you can buy. Anything that's got any value from clothes, drugs, a favor. Ramen is literal gold in prison. Gustavo Goose Alvarez was in and out of prison for 13 years, he literally wrote the book on Prison Ramen. Ramen is the best and easiest currency because everybody uses it. That's everybody's staple to cook. You have to have Ramen because prisoners cant possess cash, they use objects to trade for other goods and services and anything that replaces cash has to be durable, portable, divisible into standardized units and highly valued. Ramen fits the bill, because unlike other traded objects like stamps- which are expensive and tobacco, which is banned in most prisons. Ramen is cheap and easy to get a hold of. In the commissary a single pack of ramen runs about $.59 on average. However once it's out of value the official commissary ramens value is determined by an informal prison economy. The barter with it, they become jailhouse stores so to speak, like guys would purchase all the ramen, kind of like that scene in the orange is the new black where that one girl took over the market asking for ramens. Guys fill up their shelves with this and they have their own store and they put their price on it. Your ramen could sell for two to three dollars believe it or not.
A 2016 found that while a sweatshirt cost $10.81 at the commissary at sunbelt state penitentiary, an inmate could sell that sweatshirt for 2 packs of ramen. Increasing the value of ramen by 916 percent. In fact, food items are the overwhelming majority of what people buy. An analysis of annual commissary sales three states shows that 75% of spending was entirely on food and beverage. Inmates aren't just using ramen as cash they are also eating it. Creative cooking in prison is a necessity. When asked if prison meals were enough to live off, Alvarez said “No, I think you would starve like literally. I lost like ten pounds you know because they give you a meal that's maybe for a five year old or a ten year old but it wasn't up to par. It wasn't your four food groups, it was none of that so Ramen can supplement when the food provided isn't enough. With 2.3 Million people in U.S prisons, and pressure costs, food is one area where federal and state governments are trying to save money some inmates are now being fed for as little as $1.77 a meal. In one Instance, the marshall project reported one prison that had whittled down costs to as low as $.56 a meal however keeping food costs low doesn't come without consequences. Aramark, a private vendor to over 600 correctional facilities, has been cited for ing inmates tainted food and serving fewer and smaller meals. They even found maggots in the Ohio Kitchen prison Jail cell. Issues like this with Aramark and other private food vendors have prompted civil lawsuits and protests in response to the state of food. Turns out food isn't just about nutrition it's also about security. Despite everything Ramen has become away inmates keep a sense of control while in the system. They would make a humongous spread and the soup would be an equalizer for all of us to sit down and have a meal and not stress what's happening in the prison yard. Trade and the bartending in prison isn't new, but until there are systemic changes in its food system, ramen will likely stay at the top of the prison trade economy. Simply because food is a basic need and Ramen is a basic solution.