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Famous Last Meals

August 2, 2011
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Following our recent post on Death Row, Ty Treadwell, author of Last Supper: Famous Last Meals From Death Row got in touch with me and I had some questions.

Are the rules the same for all inmates on death row?

Death penalty rituals in the USA vary from state to state, not only in the method of execution but also in the care and treatment of the accused during his final hours. One factor that remains constant, however, is the act of feeding the condemned prisoner a special last meal before they shake hands with the Grim Reaper. Whether it’s a gourmet feast, fast food takeout, or a favorite childhood recipe, every man or woman is allowed to partake in one final meal of their choice.

What made you choose death row as the topic of your book?

When my co-author Michelle Vernon suggested that we write an entire book devoted to famous last meals, my first question was—why? Her answer was simple; almost every news story about an execution lists the condemned person’s last meal alongside their last words and other details of their final moments.

So why the keen interest? Maybe people want to compare the inmate’s last meal to their own hypothetical last meal. Maybe amateur psychologists seek relationships between an inmate’s food choices and their crime (So the axe murderer ordered a rare, bloody steak? No surprise there!) Or maybe knowing a murderer’s culinary tastes allows us to empathize with a segment of the population we normally don’t identify with (Well, I’ve never killed anyone with a hammer, but I do love fried chicken!) Regardless of the reasons, this greasy little morsel of information is widely sought after by the public. So because the interest was there, the book is now there as well—Last Suppers: Famous Final Meals from Death Row.

How do the rules differ in different states for the last meal?

While conducting research, Michelle and I discovered many fascinating details about the last meal process. For instance, every state has different rules regarding the amount and quality of food served at the last meal. Texas and Virginia only allow food that’s available in the prison kitchen at the time. Florida allows items to be bought from local grocery stores, but with a price limit of $40. Oklahoma allows take-out only, with a stingy limit of $15. States like Delaware—where the death penalty is rarely implemented—try to honor “all reasonable requests.” But the fairest state of all remains Indiana, where there are no price limits, inmates can order take-out or have their food prepared in the prison kitchen, and one inmate’s mother was even allowed to come in and cook her son’s last meal right there in the jailhouse.

What is the most popular last supper?

When it comes to food choices, last meals run the gamut from simple to sophisticated. Many inmates choose steak and lobster (if allowed) because it’s the most decadent meal they can imagine. Fried chicken is also popular, along with fast food favorites like cheeseburgers and pizza. One of the hungriest inmates we came across was David Castillo, who ordered 24 tacos, 6 enchiladas, 6 tostadas, and 2 cheeseburgers. The strangest request came from James Smith, who asked for only a lump of dirt (he didn’t get it, and settled for yogurt instead). Most inmates order a full meal with salad or appetizers, an entrée, vegetables, and bread. Others only want dessert, such as Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh—he asked for two pints of mint chocolate chip ice cream—or Harold McQueen, who consumed two entire cheesecakes. If an inmate finds his or her appetite curbed by the execution process, they might order only a beverage. Such was the case with serial killer Aileen Wuornos—portrayed by Charlize Theron in the film Monster—who sipped a cup of coffee prior to her lethal injection.

Thanks for your answers Ty! How can readers find out more?

Those with a taste for more last meals can find the e-book at Amazon. For a smorgasbord of death penalty trivia and comments on recent last meal requests, visit our blog here.

Famous Final Meals From Death Row

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