Coronavirus reduces ramen noodle supply available to Michigan prisons

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After spreading through prisons across the country, the coronavirus pandemic is now impacting the supply of a prison food delicacy, ramen noodles, according to a report by the Detroit Free Press.

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Michigan Department of Corrections spokesman Chris Gautz told the Detroit Free Press Wednesday that the supply of ramen has been “sharply reduced by a COVID-19 infection” that occurred at a manufacturing plant.

Prisoners were reportedly informed that the total number of ramen products they can buy from the prisoner store every two weeks will be cut in half from 30 to 15.

They were also told in an email obtained by the Free Press that "until the supplier has made a full recovery in production, there may be times when specific ramen products are out of stock.”

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According to the report, Ramen products were five of the top 10 items purchased from the prison store, with Michigan prisoners purchasing roughly 2.5 million packets of ramen from January to May.

Leon EL-Alamin, who served several years in the Michigan Department of Corrections on drugs and weapon charges, told the Free Press that ramen is “probably the No.1 product people use to sustain themselves" inside prison.

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 A 2016 University of Arizone study found that ramen is so popular that it is being used as currency in certain prison systems.

"Prisoners are so unhappy with the quality and quantity of prison food that they receive that they have begun relying on ramen noodles — a cheap, durable food product — as a form of money in the underground economy,” said Michael Gibson-Light, the study’s author. "Because it is cheap, tasty, and rich in calories, ramen has become so valuable that it is used to exchange for other goods.”

Those goods include other food, clothing, hygiene products, and even services such as laundry and bunk cleaning, according to Gibson-Light.

They are also used as bargaining chips in gambling during card games or football pools, he said.

"The form of money is not something that changes often or easily, even in the prison underground economy; it takes a major issue or shock to initiate such a change," he added. "The use of cigarettes as money in U.S. prisons happened in American Civil War military prisons and likely far earlier. The fact that this practice has suddenly changed has potentially serious implications."

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The news comes as the coronavirus pandemic has killed 68 prisoners as of Thursday, according to Michigan's Department of Corrections. There are more than 60,000 confirmed coronavirus cases and more than 5,800 deaths in the state overall, according to the latest update from the state government.

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