Gustavo “Goose” Alvarez was serving time in the California Institute for Men in Chino, California, when a prison riot led to an unexpected meal and fellowship. The warmth generated by that event inspired him to write a cookbook of recipes that use ramen noodles.
As Alvarez tells Here & Now‘s Peter O’Dowd: “That’s everybody’s staple in prison. No matter who you are, you’re cooking with ramen.” The result, written with his childhood friend Clifton Collins, Jr., is “Prison Ramen: Recipes and Stories from Behind Bars.”
Book Excerpts: ‘Prison Ramen’
Recipes and stories from “Prison Ramen” by Clifton Collins Jr. and Gustavo “Goose” Alvarez, reprinted with the permission of Workman Publishing Company. Copyright © 2015 by Clifton Collins Jr. and Gustavo “Goose” Alvarez.
Send Me A Mail-Out!
In the current federal prison system, you’re not allowed to carry money. All currency is gained by electronic transfers. An inmate’s ID card serves as a debit card. An inmate can purchase items at the commissary or send money home by swiping the ID card. It can also be used for buying stuff from prison-sanctioned mail-order catalogs—clothes, shoes, and sundries that are mailed to you in prison. The money in your account is either sent from someone in the free world, or you earn it doing a job in prison. The legitimate jobs pay from ten cents a day to $150 a month. A lot more money is made by gambling or selling drugs to people in prison.
Sometimes an inmate can rack up some serious debt—hundreds or even thousands of dollars—and will have to pay through a “mail-out.” This is when the debtor sends the person he owes payment, with help from an outsider, a money order or cashier’s check. Some inmates I’ve known had accounts of more than $100,000. Now there’s a cap on how much money an inmate can have on his books because there was a lot of dirty money washing. An inmate’s associate could send him a cashier’s check or money order from drug sales or some other illegal act and in turn the inmate could send money elsewhere in the form of a clean federal check. The system was used this way for years. It surprised me how long it took the IRS to finally catch on.