One prisoner recently told me this as a joke: A semi-truck transporting a trailer full of Ramen noodles crashed and burned on the freeway. There was a total loss of $100,032, $100,000 for the truck and $32 for the Ramen noodles.
Ramen noodles, or “soups”, are by far the most purchased items in prison. The price of a Ramen noodle in prison is currently $0.39 per soup/noodle. Even though that price sounds absurdly high to anyone on the outside, it is still the most economical option for a meal in prison. Soups are an accepted form of currency for things like betting, because of their wide use in prison cooking. A prisoner from another state wrote a successful book full of prison recipes aptly named “Prison Ramen.”
As we get closer to the holiday season, prisoners seem to need to spend a little more time and money on food. Around Christmas there is an influx of money to the prison economy, and that translates into more food and “spreads.” Spreading is where prisoners get together and make a big meal. In prison, food is entertainment. Spreads are something to look forward to, as they are often planned out well in advance. This is partly out of necessity because commissary items are purchased up to a week before their arrival.
Prisoners exchange tried and true recipes as well as try to come up with new fare. The other day I enjoyed a dish that included smoked oysters, cashews, diced apples and bacon. It wasn’t the best thing I’ve eaten in here, but it was good, and more importantly, it was different. One of the other prisoners told the chef his dish has a unique flavor. I imagine if you tell your mother-in-law this Thursday that her turkey stuffing is “different” or has a “unique flavor” you might not be invited back next year, but in here it is considered a compliment.
I have to say when I first came to prison and saw that prisoners make their own ice cream, I was pleasantly surprised, and in a bit of awe. Just the other day I was given instructions on how to make pizza dough using baked white cheddar crackers (generic Cheez-Its) smashed into a fine powder and mixed with water and some powdered eggs. I made a calzone with some friends and it was pretty darn good.
I’ve learned that with a little work and a microwave you can do quite a bit, like turn a package of Oreo-style cookies into a moist fluffy cake.
Brian Wood, formerly of Layton, is an inmate at the Utah Correctional Facility in Gunnison. He pleaded guilty to nine felony charges for offenses from 2011 to 2014, including counts of burglary, drug possession and prescription fraud. He could spend up to 25 years in prison, depending on parole hearings.