Last meal

Last meal

The last meal is a customary part of a condemned prisoner's last day. The day before the appointed time of execution, the prisoner will be given the meal, as well as religious rites, if he or she desires.

In many countries the prisoner may have the luxury of selecting what the last meal will be (within reason), and the authorities do their best to provide a prisoner with the requested meal.


Although the history of the tradition of giving a prisoner condemned to capital punishment a last meal is difficult to assess, most modern governments that execute prisoners subscribe to it.

The ancient Greeks, Chinese, Egyptians, and Romans all had a tradition of giving the condemned man a final meal. The Aztecs fed their human sacrifices for up to a year before their death. [] Dead link|date=April 2008

In pre-modern Europe, the ritual of granting the condemned a last meal has its seeds in common superstition: a meal was a highly symbolic social act. Accepting food, which was offered freely, meant to make one's peace with the host - the guest agreed tacitly to take an oath of truce and symbolically abjured all vengeance. Consequentially, in accepting the last meal the condemned was believed to forgive the executioner, the judge, and the witnessing mob. The ritual was supposed to prevent the delinquent from haunting those people, who were responsible for his or her killing, as a ghost or a revenant. The meal was therefore mainly a superstitious precaution and - following that logic - the better the food and the drinks, the safer the condemned's oath of truce. Last meals were often public and all parties which were involved in the penal process took partFact|date=April 2008.

There were some practical side effects of a peaceful last meal as well - it was crucial for the authorities that a public execution was a successful spectacleFact|date=April 2008. In the eyes of the contemporaries the violated law could only be restored by "mirroring" the crime via retaliative penalties (see lex talionis). However, if the mob had the impression that something was wrong and the chief character of the show was reluctant to play his or her role, things could get out of hand and place the malefactor's guilt in doubt. Hence it was most important for the authorities that the condemned met his or her fate calmlyFact|date=April 2008. Apart from having been constantly coerced since the death sentence, the solemn last meal of the condemned was a significant symbol for the mob that he or she finally accepted the punishmentFact|date=April 2008. Additionally, delinquents were often served large quantities of alcoholic beverages to soothe them and bar them from execrating the authorities while ascending the scaffold - which would have been considered a bad omenFact|date=April 2008.


In the United States of America most states give the meal a day or two prior to execution, and use the euphemism "special meal". Alcohol or tobacco is usually denied. An unorthodox or unavailable request will be replaced with a substitute. Some states place tight restrictions. For example, Texas limits last meals to food available within the prison system, though occasionally brings in food "from the free world". [cite web|title=The Last Supper|work=Legal Affairs|author=Brian Price|date=March/April 2004|url=|accessdate=2007-08-11] In Florida, the food for the last meal must be purchased locally and the cost is limited to $40.cite web|title=Death Row Fact Sheet|work=Florida Department of Corrections|url=|accessdate=2007-11-11] . In fact, Maryland does not offer the condemned a special last meal.cite web|title=Curious follow prisoners' pick of final meals|work=The News & Observer|author=Andrea Weigl|date=2006-01-15|url=|accessdate=2007-11-11]

Famous last meal requests

This represents the items reported requested but does not, in all cases, necessarily represent what the prisoner actually received.

* Mark Dean Schwab: fried eggs, bacon, sausage links, hash browns, buttered toast and a quart of chocolate milk
* Adolf Eichmann: He declined a special meal, preferring a bottle of Carmel, a dry red Israeli wine. He drank about half of it.cite web|title=No Seconds|work=TIME Magazine|date=1994-05-23|url=,9171,980768,00.html|accessdate=2007-08-11]
* Aileen Wuornos: She declined a special meal, but had a hamburger and other snack food from the prison's canteen. Later, she drank a cup of coffee.cite web|title=Last Meals on Death Row (2002)|work=Dead Man Eating|url=|accessdate=2007-08-11]
* Allen Lee Davis: 350-pound "Tiny" Davis had the following last meal: one lobster tail, fried potatoes, a half-pound of fried shrimp, six ounces of fried clams, half a loaf of garlic bread, and 32 ounces of A&W root beer.cite web|url=|title=Allen Lee Davis #558 |accessdate=2008-04-17]
* Ángel Nieves Díaz: He declined a special meal. He was then served the regular prison meal for that day, but he declined that as well.cite web|title=Last Meals on Death Row (2006)|work=Dead Man Eating|url=|accessdate=2007-08-11]
* Bruno Richard Hauptmann: Celery, olives, chicken, French fries, buttered peas, cherries, and a slice of cake.
* Dennis Wayne Bagwell: Medium rare steak with A1 Steak Sauce, fried chicken breasts and thighs, BBQ ribs, French fries, onion rings, bacon, scrambled eggs with onions, fried potatoes with onions, sliced tomatoes, salad with ranch dressing, two hamburgers, peach pie, milk, coffee, and iced tea with real sugar.cite web|url=|title=Dennis Wayne Bagwell |accessdate=2008-07-03]
* Desmond Keith Carter: He declined a special meal, but had two cheeseburgers, a steak sub, and two Cokes from the prison canteen, for which he paid $4.20 from his prison account.
* Dobie Gillis Williams: Twelve candy bars and some ice cream.cite web|title=Last meal for condemned criminals an old tradition|work=Scripps Howard News Service|author=Jessica Wehrman|date=2000-03-05|url= link|date=November 2007]
* Edward Hartman: A Greek salad, linguini with white clam sauce, cheese cake with cherry topping, garlic bread, and a Coke.cite web|title=Last Meals on Death Row (2003)|work=Dead Man Eating|url=|accessdate=2007-08-11]
* Gary Gilmore: A hamburger, hard-boiled eggs, a baked potato, a few cups of coffee, and three shots of whiskey.cite web|title=Last Meals|work=Tucson Weekly|author=John Peck|date=2006-01-05|url=|accessdate=2007-08-11] [cite web|title=Gary Gilmore: Death Wish|work=Crime Library|author=Katherine Ramsland|url=|accessdate=2007-08-11]
* Gary M. Heidnik: Two slices of a cheese pizza and two cups of black coffee. [cite book|first=Martin Gilman|last=Wolcott|title="The Evil 100"|chapter=Page 286|chapterurl=|pages=p. 286|publisher=Citadel|year=2004|id=ISBN 0-806-52555-X]
* Henry Martinez Porter: Flour tortillas, T-bone steak, refried beans, tossed salad, jalapeño peppers, ice cream, and chocolate cake.cite web|title=Final Meal Requests|work=Texas Department of Criminal Justice|url=|date=2003-09-12|accessdate=2007-08-11| archiveurl=|archivedate=2003-12-02]
* James Edward Smith: A lump of dirt, denied. Settled for a small cup of yogurt. [ Word for Word / Last Meals,]
* John Wayne Gacy: A dozen deep-fried shrimps, a bucket of original recipe chicken from KFC, French fries, and a pound of strawberries.
* Karla Faye Tucker: Banana, peach, and garden salad with ranch dressing.
* Perry Smith and Richard Hickock: Shrimp, French fries, garlic bread, ice cream, and strawberries with whipped cream.
* Philip Workman: He declined a special meal for himself, but he asked for a large vegetarian pizza to be given to a homeless person in Nashville, Tennessee. This request was denied. [cite web|title=Killer orders pizza for homeless as last meal|work=CNN|author=Ashley Fantz|date=2007-05-09|url=|accessdate=2007-08-11] cite web|title=Last Meals on Death Row (2007)|work=Dead Man Eating|url=|accessdate=2007-08-12]
* Rainey Bethea: Fried chicken, pork chops, mashed potatoes, pickled cucumbers, cornbread, lemon pie, and ice cream. [cite book|first=Perry T.|last=Ryan|title="The Last Public Execution in America"|chapter=24. Final Preparations for the Hanging|chapterurl=|publisher=Ryan, Perry T.|year=1992|id=ISBN 0-9625504-5-0]
* Robert Alton Harris: A 21-piece bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken, two large Domino's pizzas (no anchovies), ice cream, a bag of jelly beans, a six-pack of Pepsi, and a pack of Camel cigarettes. [cite web|title=Capital Punishment - Harris, Robert Alton|work=California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation|url=|accessdate=2007-08-11] [cite web|title=Television Dances With the Reaper|work=TIME Magazine|author=Lance Morrow|date=1992-05-04|url=,9171,975434,00.html|accessdate=2007-08-11]
* Ted Bundy: He declined a special meal, so he was given the traditional steak (medium-rare), eggs (over-easy), hash browns, toast, milk, coffee, juice, butter, and jelly. [cite web|title=Timeline: 1989 - A History of Corrections in Florida|work=Florida Department of Corrections|author=Paula Tully Bryant|url=|accessdate=2007-08-11]
* Timothy McVeigh: Two pints of mint chocolate-chip ice cream. [cite web|title=Execution of an American Terrorist|work=Court TV|author=Catherine Quayle|date=2001-06-11|url=|accessdate=2007-08-11] [cite web|title=Timothy McVeigh Put to Death for Oklahoma City Bombings|work=FOX News|author=Rita Cosby|date=2001-06-12|url=,2933,26904,00.html|accessdate=2007-08-11]
* Velma Barfield: She declined a special meal, having a bag of Cheez Doodles and a can of Coca-Cola instead. [cite web|title=First Woman Is Executed in U.S. Since 1962|work=The New York Times|author=William E. Schmidt|date=1984-11-03|url=|accessdate=2007-08-11]
* Victor Feguer: A single olive with the pit still in it. [cite web|title=Federal govt.'s last execution was in Iowa in 1963|work=USA Today|date=2001-06-20|url=|accessdate=2007-08-11]
* Wesley Baker:; breaded fish, pasta marinara, green beans, orange fruit punch, bread, and milk (Maryland execution: this was what was on the prison menu that day).cite web|title=Last Meals on Death Row (2005)|work=Dead Man Eating|url=|accessdate=2007-08-11]
* William Bonin: Two pepperoni and sausage pizzas, three servings of chocolate ice cream, and fifteen cans of Coca-Cola.cite web|title=William Bonin: The Freeway Killer|work=Crime Library|author=Mark Gribben|url=|accessdate=2007-08-11]
* Saddam Hussein: Unconfirmed- Sources say he ate boiled chicken and rice, and drank hot water with honey the day before his execution.

Famous fictional last meals

These last meals were featured in various forms of media, including film, books, and television.

* David Gale in "The Life of David Gale": Pancakes with maple syrup, strawberries, whipped cream, and chocolate shavings.
* Lincoln Burrows in "Prison Break": Blueberry pancakes.
* John Coffey in "The Green Mile": Cornbread, meat loaf, mashed potatoes with gravy, okra, and peach cobbler.
* Eduard Delacroix in "The Green Mile": Chili (requested that the prison's kitchen staff "lay on that hot stuff").
* Matthew Poncelet in "Dead Man Walking": Fried shrimp
* Sam Cayhall in "The Chamber": A bowl of eskimo pies and a pot of French Market coffee.
* Frank Beachum in "True Crime (novel)" and "True Crime (1999 film)": Steak, French fries, and a beer.
* Cyril O'Reily in "Oz": Fluffernutters (peanut butter and marshmallow creme sandwiches).
* Ray Kaspo in the "Monk" episode "Mr. Monk Goes to Jail": Chili and Ribs.
* Ken Kramer in the "" episode "Whacked": A single peanut butter and jelly sandwich (no one at the prison knew Kramer had a fatal allergy to peanuts, thus he chose this to commit suicide before being executed).
* Homer Simpson in "The Simpsons" episode "The Frying Game": A virtually limitless buffet of food including Hot Dogs, Pizza, Beer, Donuts, and Fried Chicken. (when asked how he could have such an appetite his response was "this baby´s gonna be full when the cannon goes off! He he he he he... k-BOOM!!!", indicating he planned for his stomach to burst during electrocution)


* Artist Julie Green paints a series called "The Last Supper". This is an on-going series of painted porcelain plates illustrating final meals of United States death row inmates []
* In the episode 'Reborn to be Wild' of the Fox animated series "King of the Hill"; Dale, Bill, Boomhauer and Kahn briefly created a "last meal club" in the realization that a condemned prisoner ate better than they did. They were eventually frightened away by the morbid nature of the meal and a feeling that they were tempting fate.
* An episode of the 1972 series "The ABC Comedy Hour" featured a sketch with Frank Gorshin imitating James Cagney as a condemned prisoner and Rich Little imitating James Stewart as a prison warden. When Little (as Stewart) told Gorshin he could have anything he wanted for his last meal, Gorshin (as Cagney) ordered "about a thousand" hummingbird tongues.
* George Carlin poked fun at the idea of the last meal in his standup act, suggesting that prisoners should have fun at the expense of the people providing the meal by either asking for ridiculous meals to eat (Among his suggestions are to ask to go eat on the patio at a Hooters or to tell the warden you've converted to a religion that embraces cannibalism and want to eat a baby.) or acting indecisive as a ploy to get more time tacked on to your sentence.
* With the advent of the Internet, a number of people seemed to become interested in what the typically requested last meals were. The Texas Department of Criminal Justice used to make available the list of the requested last meal of recent inmates, and whether the request was fulfilled. The list has since been terminated but most of the entries can still be accessed through archives.
* In the movie "Frankie and Johnny", Al Pacino plays an ex-prisoner/chef who used to make prison dinners and last meals for deathrow inmates.
* In an episode of Da Ali G Show, Ali G asked Dick Thornburgh if a prisoner can order an all-you-can-eat buffet as his last meal to keep eating and never get executed.
* In an episode of Get Smart, secret agent Maxwell Smart is captured by the enemy organization KAOS who decides to execute the spy. Before they carry out the execution, Agent Smart requests an enormous last meal to stall for time in the hopes that a rescue will be mounted. Once finished, many hours later, Smart can barely stand from his seat.


ee also

*The Last Supper

Further reading

*cite book | author=Richard van Dülmen | year=1990 | title=Theatre of Horror : Crime and Punishment in Early Modern Germany | publisher=Cambridge | id=ISBN 0-745-60616-4
*cite book | author=Michel Foucault | year=1977 | title=Discipline & Punish : The Birth of the Prison | id=ISBN 0-679-75255-2
*cite book | author=Hans von Hentig | year=1973 | title=Punishment - Its Origin, Purpose, and Psychology | id=ISBN 0-87585-147-9

External links

* Bob Greene. [ They didn't get to choose their last meals] . "Jewish World Review" (2001-06-12). Retrieved on 2007-08-17.
* Tony Karon. [,8599,52337,00.html Why We're Fascinated by Death Row Cuisine] . "TIME Magazine" (2000-08-10). Retrieved on 2007-08-17.
* Joel Stein. [,9171,1673252,00.html You Eat What You Are] . "TIME Magazine" (2007-10-18). Retrieved on 2007-11-11.
* [ Final Meal Requests] . "Texas Department of Criminal Justice" (2003-09-12). Archived from [ the original] on 2003-12-02. Retrieved on 2007-08-17.
* [ Last Meals on Death Row (since 2002)] . "Dead Man Eating". Retrieved on 2007-08-17.
* [ Last Meals] . "rotten dot com". Retrieved on 2007-08-17.

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