Late Night: Texas Refuses to Allow Chef to Provide Last Meals to Death Row InmatesPosted: September 27, 2011
While I was out in the car today, I heard a story on NPR about the recent banning of special last meals for people about to be executed in Texas.
Lawrence Russell Brewer, who was executed Wednesday for the hate crime slaying of James Byrd Jr. more than a decade ago, asked for two chicken fried steaks, a triple-meat bacon cheeseburger, fried okra, a pound of barbecue, three fajitas, a meat lover’s pizza, a pint of ice cream and a slab of peanut butter fudge with crushed peanuts. Prison officials said Brewer didn’t eat any of it.
“It is extremely inappropriate to give a person sentenced to death such a privilege,” Sen. John Whitmire, chairman of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, wrote in a letter Thursday to Brad Livingston, the executive director of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.
Within hours, Livingston said the senator’s concerns were valid and the practice of allowing death row offenders to choose their final meal was history.
Whitmire claims to be a Democrat.
Today on NPR’s All Things Considered, there was an interview with Brian D. Price, a former prison inmate who served for years as a death row chef and wrote a book called Meals to Die For. Price is now out of prison and owns a restaurant in East Texas.
In his interview with NPR’s Melissa Block, Price said he had offered to pay for and prepare the requested last meals, since Texas is too cruel and stingy to do so. But he was turned down. In addition, Price revealed that in fact the “special meals” have never been what those about to die actually requested. For example, if the inmate requested lobster, he or she would get whatever piece of fish was available. So Brewer never actually got all that food he requested–the fantasy meal that caused Whitmire to throw a tantrum.
Price argued that Texas’s elimination of last meals is inhumane.
Price made the case that “as a civilized society and a Christian nation … why not … show that softer, more compassionate side?”
Granted, Price said, most murderers don’t offer their victims last meals. “But … are we going to lower ourselves to that same level as that crime that was committed and be so cold and heartless?”
I agree with the sentiment if not the “Christian nation” characterization. Here’s a little more from the UK Guardian, which is published in a country that views the death penalty as uncivilized.
Since Texas resumed carrying out executions in 1982, the state correction agency’s practice has been to fill a condemned inmate’s request as long as the items, or food similar to what was requested, were readily available from the prison kitchen supplies.
The exact request was rarely fulfilled, Price said. He noted that when one condemned inmate asked for two T-bone steaks, the prisoner got a hamburger steak instead.
Price made 220 final meals, from 1991 until his parole in 2003, while serving 14 years in the Texas department of criminal justice Huntsville unit for a pair of convictions related to the abduction of his brother-in-law and a sexual assault on his ex-wife.
We are living through one of the worst economic crises in our country’s history. Millions of people have lost their jobs, their homes, and their faith in our political system. That a Texas legislator saw fit to make a fuss about people being given a choice of meal before they are strapped to a gurney and killed is a sure sign that this country is doomed. The psychopaths are in charge–and I don’t mean the ones in prison.