Here’s more deplorable news about the United States’ prison system. A new report has found that the quality and quantity of food in prisons has declined so severely that ramen noodles have become a precious commodity. The author of the study, Michael Gibson-Light, a doctoral candidate at the University of Arizona’s school of sociology, interviewed nearly 60 inmates in a state prison over the course a year. (The particular prison where the inmates were housed was not identified to protect the inmates’ identity.) What he found was that ramen, referred to as “soup,” is outpacing tobacco in value, even at prisons where cigarettes are banned, with one inmate saying, “People get killed over soup.”
According to Gibson-Light, the shift happened after the control of food preparation changed hands from one private firm to another in the early 2000s. Inmates at the prison in question saw their food reduced from three hot meals a day to two hot meals and a cold lunch on weekdays, and just two meals a day on weekends. As a result, prisoners report not consuming enough calories to get them through the day. What food they do eat is so bad correctional officers told Gibson-Light not to eat it because he could get food poisoning, and one officer told him he found a box containing “nasty-looking chickens” marked several times as “not for human consumption.”
As a result, the noodles have become extremely valuable. Ramen costs just 59 cents at the prison commissary, and just two packs can be exchanged for an $11 sweatshirt; one pack will buy you $2 worth of cigarettes; and inmates clean bunks for a pack and gamble with it.