In the wayback internet years of the ’90s, there used to be a list floating around, a database of last-meal requests on Texas’ death row. I think it was maintained by the Department of Corrections itself, and made for an interesting time-waster. It could be hard to read, however, as it revealed the condemned as human beings rather than monsters.
They asked for chicken-fried steak and country biscuits, barbecue and collard greens, carnitas with rice and beans. One took nothing but holy communion; another opted for a blueberry pie. There were a depressing number of cheeseburger-and-fries combos, a few genuine puzzlers. But it would seem that in this one thing, Texas honored the traditions of execution in human history, i.e., on the last day of your life, you are allowed this human comfort. (Within reason. I believe requests for alcohol are denied, and my guess is, no one gets to smoke anymore.)
I can’t find the list now, because it’s been bigfooted by the latest news out of the People’s Republic of Whack ’em and Stack ’em: No more last meals.
Lawrence Russell Brewer, one of the men convicted of the dragging death of James Byrd Jr. in 1998, went whole-hog on his last-meal request, ordering:
…two chicken-fried steaks with gravy and sliced onions; a triple-patty bacon cheeseburger; a cheese omelet with ground beef, tomatoes, onions, bell peppers and jalapeños; a bowl of fried okra with ketchup; one pound of barbecued meat with half a loaf of white bread; three fajitas; a meat-lover’s pizza; one pint of Blue Bell Ice Cream; a slab of peanut-butter fudge with crushed peanuts; and three root beers.
And what happened? See if you can guess:
The meal outraged State Senator John Whitmire, a Houston Democrat and chairman of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee. In a phone call and letter to the executive director of the state prison agency, Mr. Whitmire asked that the agency end the practice of last meals or he would get the State Legislature to pass a bill doing so.
The prison agency’s executive director, Brad Livingston, responded hours later, telling Mr. Whitmire that the practice had been terminated, effective immediately, and that death row inmates scheduled for execution would receive the same meal served to other inmates in the unit.
What a spectacularly dickish move. On everyone’s part. Brewer certainly abused the prison’s hospitality, so to speak. Where did he put all that food? It turned out he didn’t put it anywhere; he ordered it and didn’t eat it. It “made a mockery” of the process, Whitmire said, and added:
Mr. Whitmire said his opposition to last meals had little to do with the cost of the meals, when the state budget is stretched thin. He said it was a matter of principle. “He never gave his victim an opportunity for a last meal,” Mr. Whitmire said of Mr. Brewer. “Why in the world are you going to treat him like a celebrity two hours before you execute him? It’s wrong to treat a vicious murderer in this fashion. Let him eat the same meal on the chow line as the others.”
Maybe in another generation, Texas will have passed the Get as Good as You Gave Act, which specifies that the execution be performed using the same method as the crime, perhaps preceded by a few hours of torture (for the deterrent factor).
We give a condemned man a choice of last meal, Sen. Whitmire, because we’re better than the condemned. On the last day of his life, we’re extending the little niceties of civilization as a way of showing the man about to die what he rejected. We let him meet with a clerical representative of his choice to show we live by the values we kept and he rejected.
Not any more. Enjoy your macaroni and cheese.
Oldest execution joke in the book: Condemned man faces firing squad. Commander offers a final cigarette. Punchline: “No thanks, I’m trying to quit.”
Sweet, sweet Friday, how I’ve missed you. But before I have my first cocktail, I must do some work. So, for today, only one bit of bloggage, an open question:
Have a great weekend, all. Tour De Troit tomorrow! Fingers crossed for good weather.