The death row last enjoy the meal is more than 2,000 year old, dating ago to Christ. But in current years, part states have abandoned the tradition. What carry out inmates deserve? and also why go the idea that a last meal still fascinate us?


Two chicken-fried steaks with gravy and also onions. One triple-patty bacon cheeseburger. One omelette v cheese, floor beef, tomatoes, onions, bell peppers, and jalapeños. Fried okra through ketchup. A lb of barbecued meat through a fifty percent loaf that white bread. Three fajitas. A meat lover’s pizza. A pint the Blue Bell ice cream. Peanut butter fudge v crushed peanuts. 3 root beers.

You are watching: Do they still do last meals for death row

This is the last meal the Lawrence Brewer requested before he to be executed in 2011. Brewer had been judge of murdering James Byrd Jr. In a vicious dislike crime in 1998 in Jasper, Texas, in i m sorry he and two other guys dragged Byrd behind a truck until he was decapitated. After ~ ordering his extravagant last meal, Brewer refused to eat any type of of it. He to be executed by lethal injection shortly thereafter.

In part because that Brewer’s decision no to eat, Texas no longer offers specially prepared last meals to fatality row inmates. Follow to Reuters, most states still do. It to be surprisingly simple to reverse the policy, which was instituted in 1924 — every it took to be a letter come state jail officials from state Senator john Whitmire. He wrote:

Whitmire suggested that Brewer’s decision to order together a lavish meal only to eat no one of it was a statement, a final act of control over the jail system. (Whitmire did no reply to requests for comment.) the act complicates the last enjoy the meal convention: Do fatality row inmates deserve a legacy of this kind? and also where did that come from?

*
The origin of the last enjoy the meal is murky in ~ best. For decades in France, the to-be-executed were offered a glass of rum. In 16th-century England, the inmate mutual a meal v the executioner. However the id of the modern-day last enjoy the meal has come to be Americanized. The last meal, in contemporary times, is inextricably tied come America and its deep connection with capital punishment.

But the legacy stretches back hundreds of years, to ancient civilizations. Follow to Linda R. Meyer’s "The an interpretation of Death: critical Words, critical Meals," published in the book Who Deserves come Die: constructing the Executable Subject, the rituals "have been aspects of executions because that as long as human background records." Meyer, a professor of law at Quinnipiac college who has concentrated on criminal law and also legal theory, wrote the publication The justice of Mercy, around criminal punishment. The Aztecs, Hurons, Romans, and Greeks all participated in some type of last meal — whether available to human being sacrifices, prisoners, or simply those on their deathbeds. The American colonials, many years later, would certainly feast through their to-be-executed detainees as a type of "reconciliation." "Executions to be times that communal atonement, because that the commission of crime was a authorize of the decadence the all and also called because that God’s vengeance ~ above the entire community," Meyer writes. Everyone — not only the inmate — was asking for forgiveness through the act.


*
(Getty Images)
Europeans Christianized the tradition, Meyer says, illustration influence indigenous the critical Supper. "Certainly as an allusion to Passover and also the critical Supper, the last enjoy the meal signifies unity, forgiveness that sin, and gratitude for salvation with the blood sacrifice that execution," she writes.

Of course, the details the the last Supper and last meals carry out not match perfectly: Jesus had not to be imprisoned and also his last feast was a Passover meal. Still, claims Sarah Gerwig-Moore, an associate professor of regulation at Mercer University and also formerly the senior appellate supervising lawyer at the Georgia publicly Defender Council, the modern conception of the last meal most likely does suitable some facets of the last Supper. She has found there to it is in a high correlation between deeply Christian states and also those through high execution rates. Gerwig-Moore, together with colleagues Andrew Davies and Sabrina Atkins, created a legal journal file called "Cold (Comfort?) Food: The definition of Last enjoy the meal Rituals in the joined States."

"The most generous meals correlate come the says that execute the most human being — other than for Texas," Gerwig-Moore says.

In Meyer’s study, she points out that in modern times, there is most likely a reconciliation happening: "Last meals might be an offering by the guards and prison administrators as a way of seeking forgiveness because that the brewing execution, signaling the ‘it’s nothing personal.’"

In 2013, Kevin M. Kniffin and Brian Wansink that Cornell college studied the significance of death row inmates’ last enjoy the meal choices. Does the meal itself average something? What about whether or no the tradition is refused? What if few of the enjoy the meal is left uneaten? The pair looked in ~ 247 various last meal recipients, of i m sorry 24 professed innocence and also 60 apologized for wrongdoing — and while the sample size is small, some fascinating conclusions deserve to be drawn. Those who thought they were chaste were much more likely come refuse come order a last meal: " that denied guilt were 2.7 time as likely to decrease a last enjoy the meal than civilization who admitted guilt (29% versus 8%)." Kniffin and Wansink argue that those that admitted guilt to be "at peace" and, an ext or less, all set to eat. This people likewise ate heavier meals, "request 34% more calories that food than the rest of the sample." and also one last observation: "Those who denied guilt additionally tended come eat substantially fewer brand-name food items."

*
Professed innocence isn’t the only reason a convict will certainly refuse a critical meal. "It’s just like putting gas in a vehicle that don’t have no motor," Barry Lee Fairchild said about his last meal before his execution. Fairchild ordered every little thing was on the food selection for the inmates the day. He was going come die, for this reason what objective was there in being selective?

"Whitmire taken Brewer’s refusal together a political statement: operation up a tab, exercise part power. But we don’t know, right?" states Gerwig-Moore. "We don’t know if it was a politics statement or not. Ns can’t imagine eat a bite if ns knew i was about to be killed. There are stress eaters and also stress starvers, right? and you view that in many death punish , the people become unable come eat."

Gerwig-Moore has spent time with fatality row inmates, representing 2 within the previous year who were eventually executed. "There are very couple of things to look forward to for world on death row," she says. "People talk around their critical meals year in development — it’s type of a conversation starter among prisoners."

It’s a conversation starter because that those that us exterior the prison system, too. That a renowned interview query for celebrities. Yet the method we talk around last meals, Gerwig-Moore found, alters when one is actually coming. Then, it i do not care a opportunity to comfort and maybe even explain oneself.

See more: United States District Court Northern District Of Georgia, Northern District Of Georgia

"I was yes, really struck by the lessons we learn in course differences. In celebrity interviews, the last enjoy the meal answer is constantly something very exotic or expensive, like, Oh lobster and champagne! Or something favor that," she says. "But what we found in last meal requests of world on death row verified a lot around class, and also who is on fatality row — negative people, because that the many part." She claims items choose Burger King Whoppers space typical. "And you read into what these critical meals say around these people, due to the fact that they have actually such tiny agency to talk about themselves. They have actually their last statement, and also then their last meal, therefore for several of them that’s exactly how they communicate something."


*
(Getty Images)
Erika Camplin, the writer of Prison Food in America, agrees the the last meal, because that an inmate, have the right to be a way to call the world something about themselves, and administer a type of comfort. "Many gravitated toward foods items of their childhood, such as pizza, fried chicken, rapid food," Camplin said me in one email. "Things that reminded castle of less complicated memories and also growing up. ~ above the other hand, some made decision to make statements v their choices, such as an extremely basic meal as to seem pious, or one single olive." In 1963, judge murderer Victor Feguer ordered precisely this — one solitary unpitted olive — as his final meal. "No one to know what to be intended, however the mystique lives on and also people quiet talk around it today, so plainly it was effective at leaving a legacy."

Inmates’ unknown intentions in selecting their last meals marks the heritage of Brewer and also Texas, too. "I read various other accounts of world often gift unable come eat any kind of of their enjoy the meal in that moment, i m sorry is fairly understandable if friend think around it," Camplin wrote. "It’s not hard to imagine that as soon as thinking about your critical meal, girlfriend come up v the most decadent point you might imagine, but when it comes under to eating it much less than 12 hours before you will certainly be executed, girlfriend may just be a sphere of nerves. I would certainly imagine this is what happened with Brewer, and also he was unfortunately made an example of."

Whitmire was specific Brewer was communicating resistance. Whether or not that’s true, many think the article behind the last enjoy the meal is humanity — for the inmate, and for the world carrying the end the punishment. "There are standard operating steps that put up a wall surface between guards and prisoners, however nevertheless, over there is a fondness in between them," claims Gerwig-Moore. "The last meal as a legacy is really a means of showing humanity in between the caregivers of human being on fatality row that are fully powerless and also who pertained to care around these civilization — they feeling complicit, and conflicted. The last enjoy the meal is a method to offer, in a very, very little way, a display of kindness and generosity."

According come Jason Clark, the director of public information for the Texas room of Criminal Justice, there are no discussions in the Texas prison neighborhood to bring ago last meals. But he did define how critical meals worked before they to be revoked: 2 weeks prior to an execution, an inmate would certainly send in your request. Food wasn’t brought in — the kitchen employee would usage what ingredients to be on hand to produce the meal. Ns asked if Brewer’s act was something the a last straw — had too numerous inmates ordered man meals and also refused come eat them? "Senator man Whitmire feeling it to be inappropriate and the executive Director at the time agreed," Clark told me via email. "The exercise was stopped." He created that prison employees carry out not talk about the incident, or Whitmire’s decision.

It seems unlikely the Texas’s fatality row inmates will get their last meals back. No one ns spoke with stated there was any kind of movement come reinstate the tradition. "The history on this one is a small weird (and politics sensitive)," Amanda Marzullo, interim executive, management director and also policy director because that the Texas Defender Service, said me in an email. "I can’t discuss it. Over there is no effort to reinstate the practice."

*
For virtually 25 years, Texas executed more death heat inmates than any kind of other state with resources punishment. But that readjusted in 2016: currently that distinction belongs to Georgia. One of Gerwig-Moore’s clients, who she defined as "beloved," to be executed in Georgia last year. The made a usually last meal request: a barbecue sandwich and also a glass the lemonade. "His counselor took the form and , ‘No, no, no, you desire more,’ and included coleslaw and a second sandwich and candy and some ice cream — she precise walked him through adding all this things. She just … believed he should have actually them."

It’s feasible that this show of generosity meant more to the counselor 보다 to Gerwig-Moore’s client. "I think critical meals room less essential to prison society than they room to the public," Camplin writes. "As a culture while we proceed to implement capital punishment, us at least perceive that we are offering these death row inmates a dignified finale."

Or probably we simply cling to the ide of one last human act. We have the right to never fully grasp the feelings of people convicted that heinous crimes. And so instead, we enable ourselves to be fascinated through food, other we deserve to understand. In she essay, Meyer might have put it best: "To be person is always to seek an interpretation in banality."