In all the prison movies and jails set in North America, cigarettes have been the going currency. But one study out of the University of Arizona has uncovered that instant ramen noodles are the new pack of smokes.

The study was launched to investigate how prisoners were coping with increasing declines in prison services. Prison meals, for example, have gotten grosser than ever, and meal portion sizes have been reduced to boot. This is largely the result of the privatization of prisons, and/or, expenditures on correctional facilities NOT going up as the number of inmates per jail rises.

As a result, cheap and simple instant ramen noodles has become a super hot commodity as a form of money in the underground economy of prison culture. Bricks of uncooked ramen noodles are being bought in commissary and traded for other food items, clothes, hygiene products, and even services, like protection.

To quote from one subject interviewed: “It’s ‘cause people are hungry. You can tell how good a man’s doing by how many soups he’s got in his locker. ‘Twenty soups? Oh, that guy’s doing good!’  Prison is like the streets. You use currency for everything. In here, it’s soups.”

There’s actually a cookbook called Prison Ramen: Recipes and Stories from Behind Bars that was published in the fall. It includes recipes such as a ramen-wich. According to its co-author, “I hate to say this but — they’ll kill for it, believe it or not. It got to the point where some people would rather have a decent meal than a stogie, especially the way they’re feeding us in prison.”