Thursday, September 22nd marked the end of a tradition on Texas' Death Row - the last meal served to inmates about to be executed.
They would typically order elaborate meals, but prison policy already restricted ingredients to what was already available in the commissary. That's were Brian Price comes in, a former inmate turned prison chef. After the State agency cut the meals off all together last month, Price offered to donate his time to keep the last meals. Texas said no, and today The New York Times interviews Brian Price about this tradition.
Price began cooking in the prison in 1989, when he was sentenced for assaulting his ex-wife and kidnapping his brother-in-law. He later took over the responsibility of preparing the last meals when his friend, a four-star chef who was doing them at the time, didn't want to do it any more.
The tradition ended when inmate Lawrence Russel Brewer requested "two chicken-fried steaks with gravy and sliced onions; a triple-patty bacon cheeseburger; a cheese omelet with ground beef, tomatoes, onions, bell peppers and jalapenoss; a bowl of fried okra with ketchup; one pound of barbecued meat with half a loaf of white bread; three fajitas; a meat-lover's pizza; one pint of Blue Bell Ice Cream; a slab of peanut-butter fudge with crushed peanuts; and three root beers."
State Senator John Whitmire heard of this last meal, and called the state prison agency the next day and told them to end the last meals. The agency complied, and the tradition was over.
Like Brewers' meal, prisoners' requests were frequently for lavish food, and Brian Price explains how he dealt with the ingredient restrictions:
"If they requested lobster, they'd get a piece of frozen pollock. Just like they would normally get on a Friday, but what I'd do is wash the breading off, cut it diagonally and dip it in a batter so that it looked something like at Long John Silver's - something from the free world, something they thought they were getting, but it wasn't. They quit serving steaks in 1994, so whenever anyone would request a steak, I would do a hamburger steak with brown gravy and grilled onions, you know, stuff like that."
Price says: "These people don't deserve a last meal request, but we as a society have to show that softer side, that compassion," adding that the decision was "politically motivated. They waited for a heinous crime - the most heinous one in years here in Texas, first off - and then someone who ordered a lot of food, which they do that quite often anyhow."
Since the decision Price says he has received many notes and e-mails about the issue, all positive towards him and towards the idea of reinstating the meals.
· Ex-Inmate Shares Stories of Stint as a Death Row Chef [NYT]
· Texas Death Row Kitchen Cooks Its Last ‘Last Meal’ [NYT]
Huntsville Prison. [Photo: BizarreRecords/Flickr]