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In many places, a death row inmate has the right to request a special last meal that he will consume a day or two before his scheduled execution. This does not, however, always mean that he receives any meal he wants. Often, restrictions require a prisoner to choose foods that are available within the prison system or that cost less than a preset limit. Prisoners are usually denied requests that include alcohol or tobacco products. In many cases, prison officials make substitutions when they cannot fulfill a prisoner’s request because of prison restrictions.
In some prisons, last meal requests are limited to foods that can be obtained from within the prison system. At prisons that have this rule, prisoners are not permitted to have pizza from a local pizza shop, have food delivered from a gourmet restaurant, or receive food that a prison official would have to purchase from a store. Likewise, he cannot have a meal that is home-cooked by a friend or family member. For example, if a prisoner wants lobster for dinner, his request will probably be refused, as the prison is unlikely to have it on hand. He may, however, request a cheeseburger and French fries or steak and eggs if the prison has the right ingredients in stock.
Some prisons place monetary restrictions on these requests. For example, in some places, a prisoner can request any meal he wants as long as it will not cost more than $40 US dollars to purchase or prepare. If a prisoner request a meal that would cost more than this, prison officials will usually substitute selections to make a meal that is similar to what the prisoner requested but falls within the monetary budget. For instance, if a prisoner wants an expensive steak dinner but that would cost more than the spending limit, he may receive a hamburger steak instead.
Most prisons also deny requests that include substances that are typically prohibited in prison or are not food items. For example, if a person requests alcohol with a last meal, he is unlikely to receive it. Likewise, requests for tobacco products are usually denied. Interestingly, there are even some prison systems that do not cater to last meal requests at all.
Often, death row inmates’ last meal requests are publicized in news reports. Many prisoners request cheeseburgers, French fries, and pizza. Steaks are also popular as last requests. Many prisoners also request ice cream, soda, and iced tea. If a prisoner wishes to keep his request private, prison officials often honor this request and do not release the information to the public.
Why Do Death Row Inmates Get a Last Meal?
The tradition of the last meal dates back to ancient Greece then spreads to Rome, where gladiators partook in a final spread before entering the coliseum to see out their punishment. It was then considered a celebration of life before undoubtedly heading into certain death. In the years between then and now, hundreds of different traditions precede the end of life, including a last meal and drink request.
Some believe this tradition is in accordance with the Last Supper, following in line with Christian traditions. Others think that it adds humanity back into a less than humane situation. Several different commentaries have been made suggesting that it is a state-run attempt of stepping outside the crime it is committing to punish another’s crime to maintain law and order.
Death row inmates are not always granted the last meal that is romanticized in popular culture, either. While movies and television depict death row inmates receiving whatever their heart’s desire, warden’s often denied elaborate requests in favor of budgetary constraints and ingredients in-house. If any tobacco and alcohol products are requested, they are often rejected, but not every time.
For example, if an inmate asks for a last meal of pork chops, fried apples, and rocky road ice cream with a bottle of Coca-Cola, they may get some, part, or only kind of what they requested. There could be many different outcomes for the request depending on the relationship with the warden, the nature of the crime, and the number of inmates on death row. The prisoner could receive a pulled pork sandwich, an apple, and chocolate ice cream with fruit punch. Alternately, the request could be granted in full in some instances.
What Are the Weirdest Death Row Last Meals?
Before around the year 2000, last meals on death row were granted more frequently and in greater fidelity. Inmates were asking for whatever they wanted, and in many cases, no matter how specific or bizarre, the requests were granted.
Timothy McVeigh, responsible for the tragic deaths and destruction in the Oklahoma City bombings, is known for his bizarre final meal request. He asked for and was granted two pints of mint chocolate chip ice cream.
Strangely, numerous prisoners scheduled for execution have requested olives or, specifically, one singular olive as their final meal. Requests for the singular olive include both pitted and unpitted varieties. Other notably bizarre last meal requests include:
- One bag of Jolly Ranchers candy
- “Justice, equality, and world peace.”
- Steamed clams
- Lump of dirt
- Two salami sandwiches
- Cheese dip with chips
- Holy Communion
What Was the Most Expensive Last Meal?
Post 2000’s, the number of inmates on death row began to increase. The state-run systems were overloaded with inmates, and funding was dwindling. Last meals were starting to be denied more and more, or still granted but only in part. On occasion, the warden would even foot the bill over the allotted amount for the final dinner, generally relegated to 15 dollars.
In 2011, Lawrence Russell Brewer was convicted of murder and scheduled for lethal injection by the state of Texas. While his last meal wasn’t quite the most expensive on record, it was one of the most elaborate. He was granted his long list of detailed requests. When they arrived with his fare, he refused to eat. The absurdity of Brewer’s requests highlighted the underlying issues with the entire process. As a result, Texas no longer granted last meal requests and still doesn't. As his last meal, Brewer requested:
- 2 chicken fried steaks smothered in gravy with sliced onions
- 1 triple meat bacon cheeseburger with fixings on the side
- 1 cheese omelet with ground beef, tomatoes, onions, bell peppers, and jalapeños
- 1 large bowl of fried okra with ketchup
- 1 lb. barbecue with half a loaf of white bread
- 3 fajitas with fixings
- 1 Meat Lovers pizza
- 3 root beers
- 1 pt. Blue Bell vanilla ice cream
- 1 slab of peanut butter fudge with crushed peanuts
As far as pricing goes, Robert Dale Conkin’s last meal is likely the most expensive final dinner granted. In 2005, Conkin was convicted of murder and scheduled for lethal injection by the state of Georgia. As his final meal, he requested, and unlike Brewer, ate:
- Filet mignon wrapped in bacon
- De-veined shrimp sauteed in garlic butter with lemon
- Baked potato with butter, sour cream, chives, and real bacon bits
- Asparagus with hollandaise sauce
- French bread with butter
- Goat cheese
- Apple pie with vanilla bean ice cream
Frequently Asked Questions
Are there any restrictions on what a prisoner can request for their last meal?
Yes, there are restrictions on what prisoners can request for their last meal. Typically, requests are limited to products that are available in the prison kitchen or can be prepared quickly. For instance, items such as lobster, steak, or other expensive items that are not available in the prison kitchen are usually off the table. Additionally, the meal must be nutritionally balanced and meet any dietary restrictions the prisoner may have.
Can a prisoner request a large last meal?
Generally, a prisoner's last meal request is limited to a reasonable portion size. Prison kitchens often have limited resources and staff, so requests for large or extravagant meals are not typically fulfilled. Moreover, the meal must adhere to nutritional guidelines and any dietary restrictions the prisoner may have.
Is the last meal request always granted?
While the prisoner’s last meal request is usually granted, there are some cases where it may be denied. For instance, if the item requested is not available in the prison kitchen or if the quantity requested is exorbitant, the request may be denied. In addition, the request may be denied if the prisoner has a history of violent or disruptive behavior.
Is alcohol allowed as part of the last meal request?
No, alcohol is not allowed as part of the last meal request. In the majority of instances, prisoners are not permitted to consume alcohol while incarcerated; therefore, requests for alcoholic beverages are denied.
Are last meal requests kept confidential?
Yes, last-meal requests are kept confidential. Generally, prisoners are allowed to make their last meal request in private, and the request is not disclosed to anyone else. In addition, prison personnel are not permitted to discuss the prisoner's request with anyone outside the facility.