Instant Ramen Becomes Most Used Currency in US Prisons

October 24, 2016

Unlocking Word Meanings

Read the following words/expressions found in today’s article. 

1. inmate / ˈɪnˌmeɪt / (n.) – a person in prison
ExampleInmates in New Zealand prisons have good living conditions.

2. surge / sɜrdʒ/ (n.) – a sudden increase
Example: There is a surge in the price of rice because its supply is low.

3. nourish / ˈnɜr ɪʃ, ˈnʌr- / (v.) – to provide food or other things needed to stay healthy
Example: Babies can be nourished with milk.

4. commissary / ˈkɒm əˌsɛr i / (n.) – a store selling food and other supplies at a prison
Example: Prisoners can buy chips from the commissary.

5. contraband / ˈkɒn trəˌbænd / (n.) – items that are illegally brought inside a place
Example: The guards caught the inmates who were selling contraband.


Read the text below.
American inmates are now using instant ramen as a form of currency.

Previously, inmates often used cigarettes as money to buy various things inside prisons. However, the popularity of cigarettes as currency started to decline when prisons banned tobacco in 2014. According to the recent findings of an unpublished study, instant ramen has now replaced cigarettes as the most commonly used form of prison currency.

The ban on tobacco is not the only reason for instant ramen's surge in popularity. The study claims that because of budget cuts, both the quantity and quality of food in prison have decreased. In some prisons, inmates eat only two meals per day.

Because of this situation, inmates turn to eating instant ramen to nourish themselves. According to them, instant ramen is high in calories, which can give them energy for work. It is also easy to get since it is available in the commissary. Inmates also said that instant ramen tastes better than regular prison food.

A pack of instant ramen costs around 20 cents outside prison while 59 cents in the commissary. Because of its high value inside prisons, instant ramen can be traded for sweatshirts, thermal underwear, and even fresh vegetables stolen from the kitchen. It can also be used to pay for contraband such as cigarettes.

Aside from instant ramen and cigarettes, other forms of currency used inside US prisons include postage stamps, preserved mackerel, and instant coffee.

Viewpoint Discussion

Enjoy a discussion with your tutor.  

Discussion A

·         What is your opinion about the high demand for instant ramen in US prisons? Explain.
·         Do you think the US government should increase the budget for food in prisons? Why or why not?

Discussion B

·         How do you think the well-being of prisoners can be improved? Explain.
·         Do prisoners in your country experience the same issue mentioned in the article? Explain.

October 24, 2016