There’s a smart essay in Lapham’s Quarterly this weekend that highlights the absurdity of giving extravagant meals to death row inmates right before killing them.
“It’s just like putting gas in a car that don’t have no motor,” Brent Cunningham writes for Lapham, quoting convicted killer and rapist Barry Lee Fairchild‘s comment about his own last meal.
Fairchild had a point. It seems pretty ridiculous to grant prisoners’ last meal requests — which often involve a lot of comfort food — if they’re just going to be executed anyway.
Unlike last meals, last words seem to have a purpose. These final statements give prisoners a chance to apologise to their victims, or to proclaim their innocence one last time.
But why do we let inmates have last meals of their choosing?
Nobody really knows, but Cunningham writes that one theory is the state wants to look more humane than the people it’s executing.
“The state, after all, has to distinguish the violence of its punishment from the violence it is punishing, and by allowing a last meal and a final statement,” Cunningham writes, “a level of dignity and compassion are extended to the condemned that he didn’t show his victims.”
Texas, however, doesn’t want to be that dignified anymore. The Lone Star State ended its last meal policy in 2011, after a convicted killer ordered a massive meal that he decided not to eat. Here’s what he ordered, according to the Houston Chronicle.
two chicken fried steaks, a triple-meat bacon cheeseburger, a cheese omelet, a large bowl of fried okra, three fajitas, a pint of Blue Bell ice cream, and a pound of barbecue with a half loaf of white bread.
Head over to Lapham’s Quarterly for more history on the last meal ritual.
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