Texas Abolishes Last Meal Tradition For Death Row Inmates

On September 21, 2011 in Huntsville, Texas, Lawrence Russell Brewer was executed and died in the Texas Death Chamber, With him died a centuries old tradition "The Last Meal For Texas Death Row Inmates.

Brewer was executed for the 1998 murder of James Bryd Jr., in Jasper Texas. The murder which drew national attention as the most horriffic hate crimes in American History. Brewer and two other accomplices chained Bryd to the back of a pickup truck by the feet and drug him for 3 1/2 miles before he hit a culvert and was decapitated and his arm torn off. The corners office has ruled the decapitation to be the cause of death. Byrd's body was left on a road in front of a church to be found by the black residents who attended the church.

The state of Texas has traditionally allowed inmates sentenced to death to request whatever they want as their last meal.

Brewers last meal request consisted of the following:

2 chicken fried steaks smothered with onions and gravy, a triple meat cheeseburger with bacon, a cheese omelete, a large bowl of fried okra, three orders of fajitas, a pint of Blue Bell icecream, a pound of barbeque, a half loaf of white bread, a slab of peanut butter fudge sprinkled with peanuts, a meat lovers pizza and 3 rootbeers.

When the meal arrived Brewer told prison officials he was not hungry and did not eat one bite of the meal.Brewer was not the first inmate to lose his appetite after ordering a feast, but his refusal to eat angered Texas State Senator John Whitmire so much he wrote a letter to the Executive Director of Texas department of Corrections, Brad Livingston. In his letter he demanded that the last meal tradition be ceased immediately. He also threatened that if this "ridiculious practice continued he would seek a state law prohibiting it".

Director livingston concurred and issued an order that "effective immediately" no more such accomadations would be made. The condemned would recieve the same meals as the other offenders on the units. Given this option I think I would pass.

I do not know the reason for Brewers refusal to consume his last meal, may be he lost his appetite knowing that he would be killed in a few hours, maybe it was one last "up yours" to the Department of Corrections who would later on kill him, maybe it was his last way of having some control of what was happening in his life. The reasons I am sure could be many and varied.Whatever the reason, I know from working in the system for so long that the last meal held much meaning to many of those who must make the journey to the other side in this way. To some there are the memories of a childhood meal, mamas fried chicken or maybe grandmas meatloaf, a favorite meal shared with a wife, girlfrien, of around a family dinner table. Anyway I feel this tradition should not have been abolished.

The day after Brewer was executed, Senator Whitmire said"enough is enough' It is highly inappropiate to give a person sentenced to death such a priviledge, one he did not give to his victim". Priviledge...I have to question myself on that one...we are killing someone to show that killing is wrong, and with Texas' record and the number of executions performed I have to wonder if it is really a priviledge. Texas leads the nation in the num,ber of executions and the United States leads the World in the number of our citizens who are incarcerated. These facts and the fact that so many have been exonerated make me ask myself if we are going to kill a man is it too much to ask to allow him the dignity of one last meal.

Brian price is an ex-convict who now owns his own resturant, has married and is a productive member of our society. Mr. Price spent a decade preparing meals for those to be executed. He says he found it difficult at first. "not to minimize the crimes, the majority have earned their place at that dinner table". Price offered to pay for and cook the last meals of those on death row. "we should not get rid of the last meal tradition. Justice is being served when this person is executed. Can we not show our softer side, our compassion?' Price was able to overcome his feelings about cooking for those condemned after speaking to another inmate whose job it was to clean up the death chamber after executions. "it doesn't bother me to clean the blood off of the gurney after the execution, what gets to me is cleaning off the handprints, smeared lipstick, and tears stains of the family members who watched their loved one die". That conversation changed Prices attitude forever. "After that when I cooked a meal I just imagined it was my family member, my brother, on that gurney...and I cooked."

Even though Price and many others believe that the last meal should be kept alive and Price offered to pay for the food and cook it...Texas refused his offer!

Texas has always been hardnosed regarding the treatment of those unfortunate enough to find themselves buried in the bowels of one of its prisons.

Do you think last meal traditions should be abolished?

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Do you think executing offenders brings closure?

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Do you think the death penalty is a deterrent or should it be abolished?

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Comments 21 comments

rohanfelix profile image

rohanfelix 3 years ago from Chennai, India

Lovely write-up! Started like a news report and ended with a lot of soul. I appreciate the fact that you write from your heart! Voted up and beautiful!


Athlyn Green profile image

Athlyn Green 4 years ago from West Kootenays

What about instead, providing a meal for the family who had their son dragged to his death. What about using the funds that go to feed these killers a last meal, instead for therapy for the families who now have to spend years living with the loss of a family member, killed in such a horrible fashion? If there is to be any compassion shown it should be to the people this man victimized.


Rich Garratt 4 years ago

Compassion is a beautiful thing. I like that what you have written incorporates the concept of us all having inherent worth.

I chose to not read the whole paragraph that described the crime. I could've done a search for the specifics, if I really wanted to know them. I would have preferred to not have exposed myself to the concepts and imagery you did include and of which I did read of the last part of the paragraph. After reading thost's comment, I did do a search for information on Gary Gilmore, and found the material to be interesting and thought provoking reading.

I found your post thought provoking, too. Thank you for including the account of Brian Price's change of heart. It had a positive affect in my own.

Many cases of ongoing corruption within United States of America's governing bodies are infamous throughout the globe, thanks to the internet. Based on current processes, within the USA, which are clearly not "for the people", I would not feel comfortable with promoting capital punishment in that country.

Despite having written what I have written above, I acknowledge to be a perplexing challenge the task of finding and deciding upon ideal ways to balance seemingly countering activities, such as dispensing justice while granting mercy; inflicting punishment while showing compassion; and ensuring public safety while achieving real, positive, and lasting changes in prisoners, so that they contribute to society henceforth, rather than taking from society until their respective deaths.


thost profile image

thost 4 years ago from Dublin, Ireland

Economics and Gary Gilmore made the death sentence very popular in the USA.


Ralph Deeds profile image

Ralph Deeds 4 years ago

With all the executions in Texas, eliminating the last meal will help the Lone Star state balance it's budget and give a small tax cut to the oil millionaires.


amymarie_5 profile image

amymarie_5 4 years ago from Chicago IL

I think the death penalty should be reserved for the most heinous of murderers (serial killers, people who kill children, etc.). I don't believe these people deserve a feast before they are put to death.


fpherj48 profile image

fpherj48 4 years ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

Informative hub. The question of a last meal debate is the least of my concerns. I'm a hell of a lot more insistent on knowing the history of the crime, how the defendent came to be arrested, charge, tried and convicted....how the case was handled, & by whom. Who lied, who planted evidence, who HID major factors, is the D.A. up for election? How was the jury chosen? Who was the defense attorney? Was this man GUILTY or Innocent and just rushed to judgement?? Railroaded by a system of flaws and misconduct? I want those answers....then we'll worry about his meal and whether it's a LAST meal or not. If 100% indisputably guilty, then lock him away for life w/o the possibility of parole...Don't tell me about expense. Life w/o parole is far CHEAPER than 10 to 20 years worth of incraceration and appeals & the DP!...Do your homework. Don't take my word for it. RESEARCH so you KNOW what the hell you're talking about.

Excuse me, Tammy L? "capital punishment is a necessary evil of our society"???? Really? Hmmmmm, I'll be damned. Care to elaborate on that tidbit of info?

No, never mind. On second thought, please, don't bother.


Athlyn Green profile image

Athlyn Green 4 years ago from West Kootenays

Realistically speaking, most people who know they are going to die in a few hours are probably going to lose their appetite. This fellow could have eaten a regular meal like the rest. Why should someone who dragged someone else to his death be accorded any special gestures? This guy didn't care about the skin, nor the arm, nor the head that was ripped off of the man that was chained and dragged. His victim never got a last meal or a chance at life.


dmop profile image

dmop 4 years ago from Cambridge City, IN

I think corporal punishment should be abolished, as the system is more corrupt than most that will suffer under its reign. I think the entire justice system is broken. I read a study once that suggests that more than a third of all those incarcerated are likely innocent of the charges they were found guilty of. I don't like the term reasonable doubt, I think if there is any doubt it should be dropped. Circumstantial evidence should never be used, only facts that can undeniably be proven should even be considered. Seriously, If I was in the neighborhood where someone was murdered I stand a chance of going to prison or even being executed under the current legal system, who’s view seems to be if there is a possibility that I did something I am guilty.


Wesman Todd Shaw profile image

Wesman Todd Shaw 4 years ago from Kaufman, Texas

pmccray - that comment of yours is pathetic. I suppose that you've hidden your mind to where it's protected from the truths involving war monger mass murderers like Dick Cheney making MONEY for every person locked up in a prison.

Oh, but you'll learn - in time you will. It won't take long, and one of those relatives or friends of yours will wind up in prison for something that was harmless, and your pissy little attitude will change.


christalluna1124 profile image

christalluna1124 4 years ago from Dallas Texas Author

To all who have commented on this hub I appreciate the points of view. To you PM I value your opinions and you are atreasured follower for me, but the picture you seem to have of the life on the inside is far from real. The inmates do not sit on their butts all day, they work, for 5 dollars a month. As for the phone calls i live for the saturday call from my husband. I have been on both sides of the system, as a correctional officer and as a prison wife. It hurts, both ways. To me taking the last meal tradition away is petty and vengeful.

warmest regards,

chris


poetvix profile image

poetvix 4 years ago from Gone from Texas but still in the south. Surrounded by God's country.

While I have mixed feelings on the death penalty, ultimately, I have to come down on the side of it. Some people are just too dangerous. We don't give a second thought to putting down a rabid dog because we know he can do nothing but hurt others. Sadly, some people are just as dangerous. I don't know of any other way to handle them. Prison just means they go after other prisoners. If we could keep them from hurting anyone, then let them live. At the same time, should society be shelling out 40k+ per year per prisoner to do it? I guess these questions are why the issue will always be debated. With that said, I think denying a last meal request is just more cruelty in an already cruel system. Can't we show just a little compassion especially knowing any chance said prisoner had of hurting anyone is about to end? This was really interesting to read yet deep and sad all at the same time.


Wesman Todd Shaw profile image

Wesman Todd Shaw 4 years ago from Kaufman, Texas

Nothing surprises me any more in a nation where the central "intelligence" agency imports drugs, and then law enforcement locks up the people who bought what the government was selling.


Tams R profile image

Tams R 4 years ago from Missouri

While I am on the fence about the death penalty (leaning more towards keeping it) I do not believe a person who knowingly takes the life of another should have their choice of a last meal. The reason I feel this way is I don't believe I've ever heard of a murderer ask their victim if they'd like any last wishes or meals.


CMerritt profile image

CMerritt 4 years ago from Pendleton, Indiana

I am in favor, if the state so chooses, to cases where there is 100% evidence, beyond a shadow of doubt, the person is guilty...of a brutal murder.

As far as the last meal, maybe it should be up to the victims closest family and friends to decide.

I'm not sure if it deters future murders...but, it seems more humanitarian to end his life and safe taxpayers money...instead of allowing them to live the remainder of his life in a prison.


Credence2 profile image

Credence2 4 years ago from Florida (Space Coast)

I think that it is petty to take away the condemned's last meal. I don't know why that guy ordered so much food. But it is not for us to say or to take fault with him for doing so. The thought of your impending death can cause for an easy loss of appetite. I think that the last meal takes little from us and it a humane accomodation that should remain an option for the soon to be departed, regardless as to how one thinks about the death penalty. Cred2


My Esoteric profile image

My Esoteric 4 years ago from Keystone Heights, FL

Very good hub Christa, voted useful and interesting. I am at the core, ambivalent about the death penalty and leave it to society to accept or reject. At the moment, however, I am adamently opposed to it, probably for the same reasons dohoglund is, the system is too imperfect to make sure only the guilty, and only those who actually deserve it, are put to death; until we can get it right 99.9% of the time and we punish the police and prosecution who violate the law getting convictions, I am opposed to it. I do not think the death penalty deters most murders; it is simply a just end to the wanton end to another's life.


pmccray profile image

pmccray 4 years ago from Utah

I'm sorry, but I'm glad this was done. If more prisons were run like true prisons maybe they wouldn't be so full. Prison should not be a place a body would want to come back to or die before they do. Granted a normal person would not want to enter these hell holes, but the return stats show that more are more comfortable in than out. Why should a murder be given anymore than his victim received. Gruel 3 times a day, no computers, TV, phone calls, no exercise equipment, no smoking, selective books only, work, school. Most inmates eat and sit on their butts all day, if that's all you want out of life then jails okay.


barryrutherford profile image

barryrutherford 4 years ago from Queensland Australia

Forget about the last meal the whole death penalty should be abolished. I have written several hubs on the reasons why.


Tammy L profile image

Tammy L 4 years ago from Jacksonville, Texas

Unfortunately, capital punishment is a necessary evil of our society. For those who wish to abolish the last meal tradition and those who wish to keep it, a compromise could be reached. Perhaps limiting the amount of foods and perhaps even the types of foods the condemned inmate orders for his or her last meal.


dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 4 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

I think there is need for reform in our justice system.I am not against the death penalty but I do not think it should be given unless all impassibility of doubt has been eliminated in a case.

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