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inmates' last meals
Photo: Lara604 on Flickr

If you had one last meal to eat, what would it be?  

I’d probably choose breakfast, the one I usually get for Father’s Day: French toast, bacon and fresh grapefruit juice (with a dash of OJ). But if it were dinner, I’d choose Chinese dumplings and salt-and-pepper crab (with beer), pesto linguine from Liguria and a simple green salad (with white wine); and, for dessert, a warm brownie with coffee ice cream.

It’s a fun question to ask oneself. Of course, the subject becomes much more macabre if it’s considered more seriously, as in the case of death row inmates. Some people, the sort of folks who collect John Wayne Gacy paintings, I imagine, dig this stuff. There are websites dedicated to last meals (Gacy last ate, by the way, shrimp, fried chicken, French fries, and a pound of strawberries), and a few books, including Last Suppers: Famous Final Meals from Death Row.

It’s common for local newspapers to mention a recently executed person’s last meal; there’s a sick curiosity factor, sure, but there’s something else. I think the last meal provides a window, however tinted, not only to who that person was, but also what it must be like to face death.

I can’t deny that I find it oddly fascinating to read about these meals: the two chili cheese dogs, two cheeseburgers, two orders of onion rings with French dressing, turkey salad with French fries, chocolate cake, apple pie, butter pecan ice cream, egg rolls, one peach, three Dr. Peppers, jalapeno peppers, ketchup, and mayonnaise that Richard Williams ordered before being executed in Texas in 2003; or, the meal of Milton Mathis, executed last month, also in Texas, who ate two burgers with bacon, fried pork chops, fried chicken, fried fish, chili cheese fries, regular fries, and fruit punch. The last person to be executed in the U.S. (we are the only Western nation that allows capital punishment) was Richard L. “Ricky” Bible, in Arizona, on June 30th. He was killed in the morning and his last meal was a breakfast of four eggs with cheese, hash browns, biscuits and gravy, peanut butter and jelly, and chocolate milk.

The rules of death row last meals vary from state to state, but the offerings are usually limited to what is served (or an approximation) in the prison cafeteria. There is also sometimes a monetary cap. Without getting into the right or wrong of it all, it’s notable that it’s a tradition that’s maintained, even in these traditionless times. After all, a dying person’s last words are always considered sacrosanct. So, it makes sense that that also applies to one’s last meal.

There are four more men scheduled to be executed this week. But that doesn’t necessarily mean four more last meals. There are usually last minute-reprieves, for one thing. And not all inmates request last meals. Just last month, Roy Blankenship, convicted for raping and beating an elderly woman who then died of heart failure in Georgia, did not request one and declined to eat the prison’s regular meal before he died.        

For me, reading about Blankenship took the air out of the room. To think that a man refused to indulge during his last moments on earth made the subject a lot less of a parlor game. What was Blankenship (so appropriately named) feeling? Did he not eat out of penance? Was he too afraid? Or was he just incapable of one last life-affirming act? 

OK, so you mistakenly got sentenced to death (because you’re innocent, right?). What’s your last meal? Put it in the comments — best last request wins a prize (if you’re not an anonymous commenter)!