7 Gourmet Prison-Food Recipes for Bootstrapped Entrepreneurs

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Whether you’re building that next big AR platform, creating another startup PR agency focused on blockchain (like the world needs more of those) or are a YouTube creator making a move to China, the early stage of a business can be tumultuous. And until you’ve hit that coveted “product-market fit” with a healthy side dose of MRR, chances are you’re broke AF. But have no fear. I’ve got some gourmet prison-food recipes that I can assure you from personal experience will help you feel as if you’re living like a boss, even if it’s in your mother’s second bedroom. Instant noodles, mayonnaise and Kool-Aid may not be likely ingredients in a gourmet meal, but if you are in prison or coding around the clock, they may constitute the culinary highlight of your day.

In my book, Don’t Drop the Soap: Prison Life Hacks, Food Recipes, Workouts, Slang & More, I include loads of hilarious stories, prison recipes, entertaining commentary and engaging visuals designed to teach and entertain. Bootstrapped entrepreneurs will appreciate the humor while enjoying the best ways to save cash on food while you work toward getting that big body Bentley after you sell your startup. Here are seven culinary delights I’ve collected from various prison sources and a couple I included from my own book. Bon appetit! 

1. Prison Potstickers

This is one of the more creative dishes from late, legendary New York rapper Prodigy’s Commissary Kitchen. Prison potstickers are cheap, easy to make and use a surprisingly similar process to authentic homemade dumplings:

  • Mash and roll over-cooked macaroni into a ball of dough, then use your thumb to form a small dumpling pocket. 
  • Fill the dumplings with a can of mixed veggies, soy sauce and hot sauce.
  • Then brush with butter and toast for three minutes. 

2. Locked-Up Lattes

Just because you’ve landed yourself behind bars or are suffering the growing pains of a particularly stressful startup doesn’t mean you have to skip out on your coffee fix:

  • Hold a carton of milk under hot, running water (or heat it in the microwave) until steaming. 
  • Then add a few tablespoons of instant coffee and a maple syrup packet for sweetness. Voila, a ghetto version of a Starbucks’s Caffè Latte.


3. Correctional Cheesecake

Piper Kerman, author of Orange Is the New Black, the basis for Netflix’s popular drama series, is credited for this particular behind-bars treat. Using graham crackers, margarine, Laughing Cow cheese, vanilla pudding, coffee creamer and lemon juice, this no-bake cheesecake puts a whole new spin on affordable sweets:

  • Crumble up the graham crackers and add to a bowl. 
  • Add the cheese, lemon juice and coffee creamer in another bowl and stir. 
  • Lay the graham-cracker crumbles on a plate and layer on the cheese and lemon-juice mixture. 
  • Then, spread on the vanilla pudding and enjoy! 

4. Big House Tamples 

This one may sound a little gross and complex, but it’s actually a jailhouse favorite and totally ingenious if you’re completely hard-up for cash. I’ve included this recipe in Don’t Drop the Soap

  • Crush up a bag of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos and Fritos corn chips. 
  • Mix them together in one bag and add hot water until you’ve created a thick mush.
  • Knead the bag, drain any excess water and roll the mix up into the shape of tamale. Let it sit for about five minutes, add hot sauce and enjoy!  

5. Prison Pad Thai

Okay, I couldn’t get through with this list without giving you at least one ramen recipe, which also happens to come from my book. Top Ramen is the number-one most valuable prison commodity in the U.S. after all, not to mention a fan favorite of bootstrapped entrepreneurs (and college students) all over the world. This simple creation is one anyone can make, whether you’re in a kitchen or in a prison:

  • Just combine cooked ramen with peanut butter, then top with peanuts and hot sauce.

6. Jailhouse Cake

This sweet behind-bars treat is made with Butterfinger bars, peanut butter, two Honey Buns and Oreos:

  • Crush the Oreos and mold them with water to form the layers of the cake.
  • Then, take one Honey Bun to use as the base. Add the Oreos. 
  • Alternate using Oreo filling and peanut butter for the icing between the layers and the outside of the cake. 
  • Then top it all off with crumbled Butterfinger bars.

7. Prison Pruno 

While I don’t recommend attempting to make hooch in jail (it’s illegal and particularly dangerous), starving artists and entrepreneurs are totally free to give it a go after they’ve done some research and taken safety precautions. This is another recipe from my book:

  • Simply gather and mash your favorite fruits together with plenty of sugar in a bag. 
  • Then let it sit in a bowl of boiling water.
  • Wrap the bag in a towel or t-shirt and stash it away. 
  • After a few days, the fruit will ferment, filling the bag with gas as it transforms into totally affordable homemade liquor. 

Now that you have the very best prison recipes and cost-saving food hacks, it’s time to put them to use. And, obviously, you should go purchase Don’t Drop the Soapfor more useful life hacks and bootstrapping tips that will help you accomplish your wildest startup dreams. 


Andrew Medal

Andrew is the founder of Action & Ambition. He's a tech entrepreneur and angel investor.

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