Ramen Runners

Spencer Grant

Spencer Grant

For many years the currency among inmates have been cigarettes, used to close deals, create relationships and to purchase other items or favors. However, a new currency is flooding the market and it is the favorite food of college students and low income households. Its ramen. This act of a currency switch goes to show just how bad prison inmates are fed in the United States prison system. The meals are small, inadequate for a grown man to sustain life within the prison system, and hold little to no nutritional value. This, at its core, defies common humanities afforded to all inmates, but isn’t considered unlawful. Just as all other policies overseen by the republican influence, government institutions fall to private corporations that are able to run them for cheap and reap the rewards. This removes the hand of big government, yes, but does it control the quality of its citizens, no matter where they may be?

Inmates were given three hot meals a day, with increased nutritional value and vitamins to keep them healthy, but in the early 2000’s, the second was replaced with a cold cut and chips; thus inciting vitamin deficiency. The three meals that were transitioned to two were also reduced in size, doing no favors for the calorie intake for inmates. Now, nobody is saying that a cold cut sandwich is to blame for the decrease in humane actions in prison, but it definitely plays in as a factor. The one-week diet of an inmate’s meal plan shows holes in what a healthy diet should look like. The current plan is low cost and has bad taste.

It all revolves around money, just as the world outside works and the gears keep grinding. The complex system revolves around the word of the inmates and a drop off/retrieval technique that hinges on the commissary. Tickets from an outside source get filtered in, tickets are exchanged for items, items are traded for other items, and right now, the hottest item is ramen packets. Number of ramen packets shows how well an inmate is doing and how wealthy they may be inside the prison. Ramen is a commodity inside the walls, only available to those with the reputation to gain through favor, enough collected in their commissary to purchase a ramen packet or the luck to receive one during a meal. At .59 cents a packet inside the prison, inmates horde these packets and use them as a common currency, like a dollar equivalent. The underground prison economic system is every bit as fragile as the economic system outside. Just a powerful businessman on the outside surrounds himself with powerful assets and friends, a powerful inmate, creates respect and develops relationships that allow them to get ahead and keep it that way. Money within a commissary account cannot be traded directly, but through the business innovations within the system, goods purchased can be laundered and traded. Items such as coffee, mackerel, postage stamps and ramen. The hotter the item depends on several things. How hard is the item to get from the commissary? What do other members of the prison deem valuable? What is easy to hide or store? How long are you able to keep the items without it going bad or spoiling? These things matter, just as we do on the outside. However, ramen has climbed to the top of the charts due to its ability and quality to cater to all of these questions. Above that, its nutritional value holds strong against the cold cuts, chips and other items that plague the inmate’s ability to sustain.

Contrary to popular belief, the prison’s black market system thrives on items like these. Foods that offer what the prison doesn’t are the highest in sales, while illegal drugs, bootlegged liquor and cigarettes are on the decline. This should be a wake-up call for policy makers in charge of running prison development, showing that inmates now care more about their well-being that where they can score their next fix or when they can get a smoke break.