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How Much Is Ramen In Prison?

Ramen noodles have become a staple food item in prisons across the United States. With their low cost and easy preparation, ramen provides prisoners an affordable meal option during their incarceration. But how much do prisoners really pay for their ramen noodles?

In this comprehensive article, we’ll explore the costs associated with ramen in the prison system, including how pricing is set, nutritional concerns, and ramen’s evolution into a form of prison currency.

Ramen Pricing in Prisons

The price prisoners pay for ramen noodles varies from state to state and facility to facility. Unlike free society, prisoners do not simply go to a grocery store to purchase ramen. Instead, most prisons have commissaries where prisoners can buy approved food, hygiene, and other items using money from their personal accounts.

State Differences

Prison commissary prices are largely determined on a state-by-state basis. Some states pay more per ramen packet than others. According to data compiled in 2017, these were the average costs per ramen packet in selected states:

  • California – $0.58
  • Florida – $0.33
  • New York – $0.62
  • Texas – $0.55
  • Federal prisons – $0.65

As you can see, Florida’s prisons had the most affordable ramen pricing at $0.33 per packet. Meanwhile, New York and federal prisons charged the most at over $0.60 per packet.

Facility Differences

Pricing can also vary between facilities within the same state. While a state may set a maximum price limit for ramen packets, each facility’s commissary can charge less than the limit.

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For example, in Texas most prisons charge the maximum of $0.55 for ramen. However, the commissary price list for one facility, the Duncan Unit, shows they charge just $0.35 per packet – $0.20 less.

In addition to per packet pricing, some prisons sell ramen in bulk at discount. In Arizona, buying a case of 72 ramen packets reduces the per packet price down to $0.22.

So prisoners in the same state may face different ramen costs based on which facility they are incarcerated in.

Ramen as Prison Currency

Along with its role as a food staple, ramen has evolved into a type of prison currency within the underground economy. Ramen packs are durable, non-perishable, and hold a relatively stable value.

Prisoners use ramen as currency to pay for services like laundry and cell cleaning or to purchase items like commissary food. The effective exchange rate varies but typically one ramen packet equals around 25-50 cents worth of value.

By using ramen as money, prisoners can pay each other for services or gambling debts without relying on scarce outside resources. Essentially, the noodles provide prisoners with an alternative financial system.

However, not all facilities allow ramen to be used as currency. Some have banned prisoners from possessing excessive ramen packs to disrupt these underground markets. For example, Utah’s prison system limits ramen possession to just 15 packages at a time.

Nutritional Concerns with Reliance on Ramen

While ramen offers prisoners an affordable meal option, nutritionists have raised health concerns over relying too heavily on the noodles. A single ramen packet contains around 380mg of sodium – 16% of the recommended daily sodium intake.

Eating multiple packets per day, as some prisoners do, can quickly skyrocket sodium consumption along with saturated fat and refined carbohydrates. Over time this can increase risks for high blood pressure, heart disease, and other health conditions.

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However, most prisoners have limited healthy food options. Fresh produce and high-protein items are not regularly available in most prison commissaries due to short shelf lives and higher costs. So for many, ramen remains one of the only consistently available foods.

Some prison nutritionists have advocated for offering more commissary items like tuna, nuts, and dried fruits to improve overall nutritional intake. But the budgets provided for prisoner meals remain minimally adequate in most state systems.

Notable Ramen-Related Crimes and Punishments

Ramen has factored into various prisoner schemes and criminal prosecutions over the years. Here are some notable examples:

Smuggling ramen packetsA former guard at San Quentin prison in California was disciplined for attempting to smuggle in bags of ramen worth $1000.30 days added to sentence
Operating ramen shopAn Ohio prisoner was found operating a ramen shop where he sold individual noodles and customized seasoning packets.60 days in solitary confinement
Assaulting another prisoner for ramenAt a Florida prison, one prisoner admitted to beating another to steal his bag of ramen packets.Sentenced to additional 5 years
Withholding ramen as punishmentA Colorado prison captain was convicted of various civil rights violations including confiscating prisoners’ ramen for weeks as informal punishment.42 months in federal prison

As these examples illustrate, ramen has become a prized commodity in prisons. Some prisoners are even willing to resort to violence or criminal schemes in pursuit of the coveted noodles.

Ramen in Popular Prison Culture

Ramen’s popularity in prisons has also translated into portrayals in media and entertainment:

  • The Netflix series Orange is the New Black featured ramen several times as a staple food and currency among inmates.
  • Rapper Eminem mentions cooking ramen in a prison cell in his song “Deja Vu”.
  • Ex-prisoners have posted numerous ramen recipe videos on YouTube using ingredients available in commissary. Spicy ramen and “ramen pizza” are popular creations.
  • Numerous prison memoirs mention ramen’s importance. In his book Prison Ramen, Clifton Collins Jr. details how ramen inspired him to get creative with commissary cooking.
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While ramen originated as a quick food option, it has become deeply embedded in prison culture and foodways. For many inmates, ramen offers more than just convenient calories – it provides community bonding through trade, a taste of outside food culture, and a creative cooking outlet.

Frequently Asked Questions About Ramen in Prisons

How do prisoners cook ramen in cells?

Prisoners prepare ramen by pouring hot tap water into the noodles and letting them steep. Some facilities allow small hot pots. More creative methods involve rigging food bags over hot lightbulbs.

What are the most popular ramen flavors in prison commissaries?

The traditional chicken and beef flavors tend to be prisoner favorites. Spicy chili and shrimp flavors are popular varieties too.

Do prisoners eat anything besides ramen for meals?

Some facilities provide hot meals with limited nutrition. But many prisoners rely heavily on ramen along with other commissary foods like tortilla chips and canned fish for daily sustenance.

Has ramen ever been banned in prisons before?

A few facilities have attempted cracking down on ramen possession to disrupt the underground economy. But widespread bans are rare since ramen provides needed calories. Plus political pushback from prisoner advocates makes bans controversial.

Do prisoners customize their ramen with extra ingredients?

Yes, many prisoners create customized ramen dishes by adding available commissary ingredients like summer sausage, canned vegetables, Doritos, peanut butter, and chili powder for more flavor.


From prison kitchens to black markets, ramen noodles have become deeply ingrained in the culture and food system of American correctional facilities over past decades. While ramen offers an affordable meal, its nutritional deficiencies and use in illicit economies also raise concerns. Reform advocates continue pushing for higher quality, nutritious food options for the incarcerated.

But for the foreseeable future, the instant ramen packet remains a staple of prison life – a convenient, salty tie connecting confinement to the outside world. Whether contraband currency or creative cooking canvas, ramen offers prisoners more than just inexpensive calories; it provides nostalgia, community, and a little taste of freedom.

Prison Inside Team

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Welcome to ‘Prison Inside,’ a blog dedicated to shedding light on the often hidden and misunderstood world within correctional facilities. Through firsthand accounts, personal narratives, and insightful reflections, we delve into the lives of those who find themselves behind bars, offering a unique perspective on the challenges, triumphs, and transformations that unfold within the confines of these walls.

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