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Death Row Dinners

Updated: Aug 10, 2019

One of my dad's favorite stories is about a man on death row who asked for a tortilla and a glass of water for his final meal on death row. This story always really stuck with me. As a kid, when my dad told my brother and I this story, I wondered why someone would choose such a simple meal as their last. I mean, if I had the choice, it would be veal, champagne and all the works!

It took many years for me to realize why my dad told my brother and I the story of the humble meal on death row. The inmate was protesting the injustice of the court system through the humility of a plain tortilla. He was trying to be a hero on death row. I finally realized why that story always interested me so much as a kid. He was denying his savage privilege to indirectly tell the guards and the entire court system how flawed they were. He knew the punishment was inhumane.

Researching death row dinners, or what are called in the system "special meals," I ran across everything from steak to triple cheeseburgers to fried okra. Earl Forrest, who was involved in just a drug dispute that landed him 11 years on death row, washed down his chocolate cake dessert with a glass of milk. Some famous last meals even extended beyond the prison kitchen, including KFC and McDonald's.

Unfortunately enough, there is talk that "special meals" on death row might soon be a thing of the past. Texas Senate Criminal Justice Committee Chairman John Whitmire exclaimed in an interview that, "It is extremely inappropriate to give a person sentenced to death such a privilege...enough is enough." Virginia prisons have a 28-day menu cycle (for example hot dogs might be the first day and chili the second) and can choose one of the 28 menu items. According to an article I read from 2017, Texas no longer offers last meals. Sadly,

death row dinners are dying out.

Requested meals before execution has been a practice that historians have traced back over the last 2,000 years. "Special meals" are a sign of forgiveness and humility on the part of the court system to an inmate. We are all human, and deserve to be treated with respect. I, for one, hope that "special meals" don't die out in this country. As we continue to march through the 21 century, I hope the tradition of a death row dinner is not weighed out by cost effectiveness. I am not extremely religious, but I do know one thing from all the years I was dragged to church growing up. It was Jesus who said, "I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will not hunger, and whoever believes in me will not thirst."

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