If you’ve ever wondered how inmates sustain themselves emotionally and physically while doing time, Gastronomica has the (print-only) answer: They “spread” (put on improvised feasts), typically using Top Ramen noodles as the foundation for truly inventive commissary-based casserole-style meals.

Here’s how inmate Max Hackett makes an Asian-style sweet and sour spread:

In the microwave he makes a glaze by heating a coffee cup full of three or four packets of apple jelly saved from breakfast, two packets of jalapeno hot sauce, a teaspoon or so of cherry fruit-drink mix, dried strawberries picked out from Quaker Oatmeal Strawberries & Cream, and sugar to taste. He pours the glaze over a bag of pork rinds and lets it soak in. He serves this spread with rice.

Other spreads include the Nacho Spread, the Going-Down-South Hog Spread, and even the Nutritious Spread, which uses coleslaw from lunch, raw cabbage and carrots, dressing seasoned with garlic and onions, butter, apple juice, bologna (fried up to resemble bacon bits), and, of course, ramen noodles.

The article’s author, Sandra Cate, does a masterful job of describing not just what the spread tradition entails, but also what it means: For prisoners, it’s a way of asserting individuality, showing ethnic pride (Latino prisoners, for example, kick up their spreads with ingredients such as Flamin’ Hot Cheetos), and reinforcing the jail’s pecking order. All in all, fascinating stuff, and guaranteed to make getting sent up the river for a class B felony just a little bit sweeter.

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