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If you’ve heard of The Whole Shabang potato chips, chances are you’ve been to jail.
That’s because the chips — which taste like a combination of salt and vinegar, barbeque seasoning, and a little bit of every other flavor ever known — are not sold in stores. They’re “jail chips,” meaning they’re produced and sold exclusively for America’s prisoners.
And ex-cons are obsessed with them.
Driven by their desire for the chips’ apparently unrivaled taste, formerly incarcerated snackers have set up Facebook fan pages, message boards, and auctions on eBay to try to snag a bag on the outside. The Keefe Group, the chips’ manufacturer, even recently set up a separate online store to meet the consumer craving.
“You won’t find another potato chip that packs more of a punch than the Whole Shabang,” said Terry Workman, the chips’ self-described “biggest fan.”
“The Whole Shabangs are a ray of sunlight in the very cloudy and drab existence that is prison,” another former prisoner told NBC News.
But the chips are more than just a scarce and delicious snack. They also highlight one private company’s omnipresence in the prison commissary industry. (Keefe’s parent company made $1 billion in revenue last year, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.)
So we visited Workman in Elco, Pennsylvania, just outside of Pittsburgh, to learn more about his Shabang obsession. He taught us how to make something called a “chi chi:” a soup garnished with the magical chips, which he ate every night while he was in jail. You can watch our visit in the video above.