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What would a prisoner do with 400 packs of Ramen noodles?

The bags behind the shoes are filled with confiscated Ramen noodles.
The bags behind the shoes are filled with confiscated Ramen noodles. Mississippi Department of Corrections

“How do you spell love? R-A-M-E-N.” That just does not have the zing of “M-O-N-E-Y.”

But then, we’re not in prison.

If we were, we might be singing a different tune.

The state Department of Corrections has been cracking down on contraband at its prisons with a series of shakedowns. It’s pretty clear what the intended use is for homemade knives, bats, drugs and other typical prison fare that turned up in these searches.

But Ramen noodles?

At least one inmate at the East Mississippi Correctional Center this month had squirreled away 400 packs of the noodles, more than enough to get a broke college student through a semester.

Grace Fisher, spokeswoman for the Department of Corrections, said the noodles were found in a locker that, surprise, no one at the prison is claiming.

“We can say, based on episodic seizures, especially during shakedowns, that a large quantity indicates the inmate is using the items for personal gain or in bartering, gambling or extorting,” she wrote in an email.

The noodles are available from the prison commissary in hot-spicy, beef and chicken flavors for 53 cents a pack. At the Neighborhood Wal-Mart, they’re a quarter. So it’s not a bargain but still not a bad price for a meal that will knock out those hunger pangs.

Michael Gibson-Light spent a year talking to inmates and staffers in Sun Belt prisons and found an “informal economy” based on noodles, or soups as they were known to the prison population, he told NPR last year.

He said an inmate told him the noodles also conveyed status.

“Twenty soups? Oh, that guy’s doing good,” Gibson-Light said the inmate told him.

Four hundred soups? I believe they’ve found the bank.

The other factor driving the noodle craze is the quality and quantity of prison food, Gibson-Light said.

Fisher didn’t answer a question about how many complaints, if any, inmates had about food. The state has a $36 million, three-year contract with Aramark to feed its prisoners, at a cost that ranges from $2.84 to $2.98 per inmate per day, depending on the number of inmates eating. (Burger King’s $4 meal deal was considered a price war in 2016.)

Aramark says it adheres to government standards for meals.

For whatever reason, the noodles are so popular, they spawned a cookbook by a former inmate, “Prison Ramen, Recipes and Stories from Behind Bars,” NPR reported.

Mississippi inmates have access to microwaves to cook their noodles. Others aren’t so lucky.

Cookbook author Gustav “Goose” Alvarez told NPR:

“In most cases, we make makeshift stingers. ... You’ll get some two-way wires and you connect them to some razor blades out of a brand-new razor. And then the other end is the male plug to go into the female plug. You put the metal piece in the water first, and then you connect it to the outlet. And within 30 seconds, that water is steaming hot.”

Whatever.

I’m just glad there are fewer knives and bats and the like in the hands of inmates, thanks to the tougher contraband policies of Corrections Commissioner Pelicia Hall.

And if she takes down a loan shark in the process, good for her.

Paul Hampton: 228-284-7296, @JPaulHampton

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