The Snack You Had to Commit a Crime to Try

In general, it’s a bad idea to break the law — if you’re caught and found (or plead) guilty, you may end up to going to prison. And prison isn’t a fun place to be, a fact that hopefully needs no further explanation.

The exception: if you’re really, really into potato chips.

Pictured above is a brand of potato chips you’re probably not familiar with. They’re not Lays, Ruffles, Pringles (which may not actually be “potato chips,” but that’s another story), Wise, or even Utz. They’re “The Whole Shabang,” and it’s incredibly unlikely you’ll find them at your local grocery store. They’re made by the Keefe Group, which per its website is “the nation’s leading supplier of food products, personal care products, electronics, clothing, technology, telecommunications and software solutions to the correctional market.” That is, among other things, they provide junk food to prison commissaries — and not your corner market.

And in most cases, you wouldn’t care. Prison commissary food isn’t known for being fine cuisine; for example, Keefe also makes Cactus Annie’s Jalapeno Squeeze Cheese, which sounds and looks like what you’d expect prison commissary food to look like, namely, gross. But The Whole Shabang chips? Apparently, they’re incredible:

  • One inmate told NBC News that “The Whole Shabangs are a ray of sunlight in the very cloudy and drab existence that is prison.”
  • A former inmate joked (one hopes!) on Facebook, saying “why did I have to go to jail to experience the best chips ever made???? Well…. back to jail it is.”
  • Another posted to Facebook that although she “won’t do time again” to get the chips, she hopes to find someone on the inside who can send her some: “[I’ll] find out who’s about to get out and send some money so they can bring me at least 10 bags of them. They are delicious.”
  • Even non-criminals swear by the snacks; according to the Lincoln (Nebraska) Journal-Star, “Nebraska Parole Board members have a standing request for the canteen to hold a couple of bags so they can buy them when they come to the center for hearings.”

For the prison population, the chips were a silver lining in a sea of gray. For the rest of us, though, The Whole Shabang were sadly unattainable. Every once in a while, one could find some bags on eBay or Amazon, but only at extraordinarily high prices ($20 for six ounces was not unheard of) and often sold by sellers who didn’t know how to pack potato chips. As a result, these magic prison potato chips were effectively out of reach to those without a rap sheet.

But now, you can try them if you’d like — and if you’re willing to pay a premium, although not as hefty as before. In late 2016, Keefe opened up an e-commerce website and began offering the chips online. You can get them for about $3 a bag (compared to about $1 if you’re incarcerated) and have to place a minimum order of nine or 12 bags, depending on that state you live in. At only about $30-35, you won’t have to rob a bank to get some, although that route will work, too.

Bonus fact: As noted above, Pringles aren’t actually potato chips — at least, they don’t want to be considered as such. According to Gizmodo, “instead of shaving bits off of a potato and deep frying them, the company starts with a slurry of rice, wheat, corn, and potato flakes and presses them into shape. So these potato chips aren’t really potato at all.” And, in 2009, per then-manufacturer Procter & Gamble, that meant they weren’t potato chips. Why? As the New York Times reports, “in Britain, most foods are exempt from the value-added tax, but potato — chips known as crisps — and ‘similar products made from the potato, or from potato flour,’ are taxable.” P&G hoped to avoid that crisps tax but the British courts ruled against them.

From the Archives: Why Once You Pop, You Can’t Stop: The science behind why you can’t eat just one potato chip.