Ramen Noodles Replacing Tobacco, Stamps As Top Prison Currency?

Prisons across the United States are facing a crisis, and it’s being reflected in the kind of currency prisoners are beginning to use more. Studies show that ramen noodles are replacing things like postage stamps and the classic standby of cigarettes and tobacco as the currency of choice behind bars.

The reason behind this appears to be a drop in prison spending in relation to general population inside the facilities. Michael Gibson-Light of the University of Arizona is a doctoral candidate, and it was his research which brought the disturbing shift to light. While prison population is rising, the quality and quantity of food is not. Prisoners are fending for themselves to stave off the problem using the cheapest and most durable food available to the general public.

Ramen noodles in the United States are often the fall-back for the poor and desperate. At mere pennies an envelope, a packet of noodles makes for a tasty snack if one knows how to add the right ingredients. Even Keeping Up with the Kardashians star Kylie Jenner has helped make ramen a snack of choice with her controversial Twitter postings.

Sadly, a diet of ramen, often sold by companies like Maruchan and Top Ramen, could also be a deadly one. There is next to no nutritional value in the popular North American snack food, commonly remedied by the addition of cheap vegetables and meat products. Hot dogs and radishes can often be used to add some flavor or texture to the meal unless you simply opt for the cup variety, which is still sold at around three for a dollar on average.

While a potentially deadly alternative to food in the United States, Japan tends to make their own, almost like fast food. This trend is seen often in classic anime shows like Naruto, where the titular character is often excited by the possibility of being treated to a bowl of ramen noodles, which are probably tonkotsu, a higher quality product.

Prisoners across the United States might not feel the same about the processed soup product, but the quality and quantity of food available make cheaper alternatives more attractive. Instead of stamps, envelopes, and tobacco, prisoners are now gravitating toward using ramen as a bargaining standard in exchange for other food, services, and even betting on sports games. Common necessities are often also used as currency due to the prison staff allegedly taking less responsibility for the care of convicts, according to NBC News.

Gibson-Light has remarked on this latest trend in prisons.

“Prisoners are so unhappy with the quality and quantity of prison food that they receive that they have begun relying on ramen noodles – a cheap, durable food product – as a form of money in the underground economy. The form of money is not something that changes often or easily, even in the prison underground economy; it takes a major issue or shock to initiate such a change.”

The findings are based mostly on one male state prison, but there are signs of the ramen noodle currency taking over in other prisons as well, says BBC News.

The study was conducted between May of 2015 and this past May, with prisoner habits and interviews with prisoners and staff being the main basis. While some may argue that prisoners earned the treatment, it may be important to remember that some prisoners may have been innocent and unable to afford a lawyer.

What do you think of ramen noodles being among the new staples of currency in United States prisons?

[Image via Shinari/Shutterstock.com]