Photo: Chris Hsia / Flickr
Photo: Chris Hsia / Flickr

Nowadays, ramen and other instant soups are proving to be a more nutritious currency.

Because of its utility, ramen is quickly displacing the once-popular cigarettes as the currency of choice among prisoners.

That’s what doctoral candidate Michael Gibson-Light at the University of Arizona School of Sociology concluded after studying how inmates keep themselves full after prison services are defunded.

Gibson conducted a 12-month investigation on nearly 60 inmates and prison staff. He observed how prisoners worked, how they traded, and how they responded to declining services from the facilities.

It speaks to the horrid conditions of encapsulation when inmates turn to ramen as a higher-quality alternative than the prison food.

“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,” Gibson said. “Because it is cheap, tasty, and rich in calories, ramen has become so valuable that it is used to exchange for other goods.”

Gibson says the rise in ramen popularity among prisoners signals “punitive frugality,” indicating that prison systems are shifting the cost of care onto the inmates.

“Punitive frugality is not a formal prison policy, but rather an observable trend in prison administration practice in institutions throughout the country.”