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Ramen Noodles Are The New De Facto Prison Currency

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Craig Boudreau Vice Reporter
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Move over tobacco, ramen noodles are now the go-to currency in prison.

A new study by Michael Gibson-Light, a doctoral candidate in the University of Arizona’s school of sociology, has found ramen noodles are overtaking tobacco as prison currency, The Guardian reports Monday.

Gibson-Light found that cost-cutting moves by prison have resulted in lower quality food, making ramen a hot commodity. He has dubbed the phenomenon “punitive frugality.”

“Punitive frugality is not a formal prison policy,” Gibson-Light wrote in his study. “[B]ut rather an observable trend in prison administration practice in institutions throughout the country.”

“[Ramen] is easy to get and it’s high in calories,” Gibson-Light told The Guardian. “A lot of them, they spend their days working and exercising and they don’t have enough energy to do these things.”

Ramen is so popular on the inside, one former prisoner named Gustavo “Goose” Alvarez even wrote a cookbook about it, “Prison Ramen: Recipes and Stories from Behind Bars.”

“I’ve seen fights over ramen,” an inmate told Gibson-Light. “People get killed over soup.”

At the prison Gibson-Light studied, inmates used to get three hot meals a day, but now only get two hot meals a day and a cold lunch. Inmates get two meals a day on Saturday and Sunday, which has lead to an increasing black market for extra food.

Two packets of ramen, which go for 59 cents a piece at the prison commissary, can be traded for items valued as high as $10, the study found.

Gibson-Light reports in his study that the Federal Bureau of Prisons spending has declined by 5.6 percent as of 2010, and that “per capita state corrections expenditures have not kept pace with the number of inmates.”

He notes tobacco has been the predominant prison currency since at least the Civil War, and that this change has “potentially serious implications.”

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