Ex-con finds rehabilitation in healthy ramen brand for prisoners

Global Business

Spending time behind bars can be a traumatic experience. But for some, it can put them on the path to recovery. That was the case for Ron Freeman who learned from his tough times in prison. He ended up becoming an entrepreneur in an unlikely industry—the instant noodle business. CGTN’s Mark Niu reports.

Growing in South Central Los Angeles in the ’70s and ’80s, Ron Freeman got hooked on drugs as a teenager.

He recalls 25 years ago working as a hot dog vendor at this very place, when the police arrived. Police found cocaine in his waste bin. The drugs belonged to a gang member, but Ron wouldn’t tell.

“That’s just the code here, you don’t tell,” Freeman said.

If if did, he risked retribution, he said.

“Then I wouldn’t be standing here. I wouldn’t be standing here talking to you,” he said.

Ron spent a year and a half in prison and another year in a drug program – all steps that have led him to this point.

“These are 85% whole wheat. And if you look at our ramen. Look how it’s done,” said Freeman, now the CEO & Head Chef of Mama Pat’s Foods. “This has been sitting here for probably the last 30 minutes and they are still fluffy and spongy like that. Delicious.”

Mama Pat’s Foods makes instant noodles with flavors that include seafood gumbo, chicken taco, chicken fajita and lamb stew, all with sodium levels roughly 75% less than the competition.

Mama Pat’s noodles have 343 milligrams of sodium. But Freeman says he’s currently working on a product that will cut that sodium to zero, contain no MSG and be gluten free. Ron began selling to local stores like Best Buy Meat. He soon found a much bigger market with a hunger for healthy noodles—California prisons.

“I left a bunch of men who were sick in prison because of what they are consuming with the salt, sugar,” said Kevin Carr Sr., the correction facility marketing director at Mama Pat’s Foods. “And so now we have a product we can give back into the prisons and people that have high blood pressure or diabetes, now they have something they can consume that’s healthier. So I was on board as soon as he told me.”

Carr is Ron’s best friend and spent 20 years behind bars and was released nearly three years ago. He shows the place where security guards chased him down after he stole $160 worth of clothes to fuel his drug habit.

“So I can smile now looking down the corridor where I ran out of,” said Carr. “You know, I’m grateful. ‘Cause when you think about it, in hindsight, I could have ended up dead by getting shot, getting stabbed.”

Carr has gone on to use his knowledge of prison and how ramen is even used as a currency there to help Mama Pat’s business grow.

Mama Pat’s also sells online, which now accounts for 30-40% of sales.

Social Media has also given Ron a place to share his message — that no matter what’s happened in your past, hard work can win out.

“Because what comes to my mind is that I thank God for this,” said Freeman. “Because without it, I wouldn’t have a story. I wouldn’t have what I have right now. God had to punish me to get my head right for me to do what I’m doing. And that’s why I’m thankful.”

Chef Ron Freeman on how prison lead to the creation of his instant noodle brand

CGTN’s Mark Niu interviewed chef Ron Freeman about how spending time in prison led to the creation of his Mama Pat’s instant noodle brand.