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Ramen Noodles–The New Prison Currency




Michael Gibson-Light, a doctoral candidate at the University of Arizona School of Sociology has reported after conducting research at an Arizona State prison on prison labor that Ramen Noodles is the currency of choice for inmates.

Traditionally, cigarettes were the underground currency between inmates. Because of the cut back on meals, quantity and quality, inmates resorted to Ramen Noodles to supplement their diet.

The Arizona state prison and other prisons throughout the United States have chosen private vendors to provide food. Because of this decision, portion sizes were cut, food quality decreased significantly, and lunch was no longer served on the weekends.

All of these reductions meant more profit for the private vendors and hungry inmates. With food quality and quantity down, there was greater demand for Ramen Noodles from prison commissaries ( private vendors or state). Of course, inmates were now charged higher prices for Ramen Noodles. In prison, a single package costs .59 cents while at Walmart, the cost for a 12 Ramen pack was $2.39 or .20 cents a single package. Keep in mind that many inmates earn between .25 to $1.15 a day.

Inmates used the Ramen Noodles purchased at the prison commissary to buy other goods (i.e. hygiene items, other food, including contraband). On a personal note, when I was in state prison five years ago, inmates were using Ramen Noodles as the currency to buy all kinds of items, from food to illegal contraband. When the correctional officers refused to provide toilet paper, you could use your Ramen Noodles to buy toilet paper from inmates who had extra supplies.

At most prisons, you will find private commissaries run by enterprising inmates who used their funds to buy Ramen Noodles and other items which were sold for profit. Depending on the inmate selling, if you bought 2 Ramen packages, you had to pay back 3 or 4 Ramen packages. If you did not pay back, you risked a beating. With the food cut backs, many inmates were hungry and the pursuit of food was always the goal of the day.

By: Bradley Schwartz
Founder of

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