We Still Like Ike
Volume III, Issue II - Fall 2012
  • I.

    The last last meal granted to a prisoner in the state of Texas went to Lawrence Russell Brewer, who requested two chicken fried steaks, a triple-meat bacon cheeseburger, a large bowl of fried okra, a pound of barbecue, three fajitas, a cheese omelet with ground beef, tomatoes, onions, and jalapenos, a meat lover’s pizza, three root beers, and for dessert, a pint of Blue Bell ice cream and a slab of peanut butter fudge with crushed peanuts. The meal was granted but Brewer refused it, saying he wasn’t hungry. The Texas Senate interpreted Brewer’s action as an insult, and in 2011, the state ended its practice of granting the condemned a last meal before the execution.

    “[Brewer] never gave his victim an opportunity for a last meal,” said Senator John Whitmere, the Chairman of the Texas Senate Criminal Justice Committee. “Let him eat the same meal on the chow line as the others.”

  • II.

    The Texas Department of Correctional Facilities listed prisoners’ last meal requests on its web page until 2003, when it was taken down for causing public offence. The archived version of the web log lists some 310 final meal requests in total. It begins with Charlie Brooks, Jr. (executed 12/07/1982, requested T-bone steak, French fries, ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, rolls, ice tea, and peach cobbler) and ends with Larry Hayes (executed 09/10/2003, requested two bacon double cheeseburgers, French fries, onion rings, ketchup, cole slaw, two diet Cokes, one quart of milk, one pint of fried okra, salad dressing, tomato, and onion, one pint of rocky road ice cream,).

    While drunk and high on heroin, Charlie Brooks Jr. and some of his friends had kidnapped and murdered a mechanic. In the testimony it was unclear whether he or one of his friends had actually shot the gun. He was the first man to be killed by lethal injection in the United States.

    After arguing with his wife Mary, Larry Hayes undoubtedly did shoot her to death (seven times total, three in the head) at their  ............

  • home in Conroe. Then he killed Rosalyn Robinson, an 18-year-old clerk at a gas station nearby. He, too, was executed by lethal injection.


    Brooks: “Yes, I do. I love you. Asdadu an la ilah illa Allah, Asdadu an la ilah illa Allah, Asdadu anna Muhammadan Rasul Allah, Asdadu anna Muhammadan Rasul Allah. I bear witness that there is no God but Allah. I bear witness that Muhammad is the messenger of Allah. Inna li-Allah wa-inna ilayhi rajiun. Verily unto Allah do we belong, Verily unto him do we return. Be strong.”

    Hayes: “I would like for Rosalyn’s family and loved ones and my wife, Mary’s, family to know that I am genuinely sorry for what I did. I would like you to reach down in your hearts and forgive me. There is no excuse for what I did. Rosalyn’s mother asked me at the trial, “Why?” and I do not have a good reason for it. Please forgive me. As for my friends and family here—thanks for sticking with me and know that I love you and will take part of  ............

  • you with me. I would like to thank one of the arresting officers that I would have killed if I could have. He gave me CPR, saved my life, and gave me a chance to get my life right. I know I will see Mary and Rosalyn tonight. I love you all.”


    Remorse is derived from a 14th century French word meaning to bite again. The last meal is a tradition that dates back to pre-modern Europe, wherein offering a last measure of human comfort before carrying out the execution absolved the executioner of his guilt.

    “The only regret that I have is that I should have done this sooner,” said Texas Senator John Whitmere.

    “As far as any regrets, no, I have no regrets,” said Lawrence Russell Brewer of his crime. “I’d do it all over again, to tell you the truth.”

  • V.

    The last meals served in Texas, 1982 to 2003, consisted mostly of T-bone steaks and hamburgers. There were also hot spiced beets and a plain cheese sandwich. One flour tortilla and water. Freshly squeezed orange juice, 2 dozen scrambled eggs. Four pieces of chicken, two breast and two legs. Chicken dumplings, black-eyed peas.

    There was one request for God’s saving grace, love, truth, peace and freedom. Another for wild game, or whatever was on the menu, and cold lemonade. Six pieces of French toast with syrup. Two turkey sandwiches. A request that the final meal be provided to a homeless person.

    40 Coca Colas in all. Four Dr. Peppers with ice on the side, and five sticks of mint. One pot of coffee. Cool whip and cherries. 30 jumbo shrimp. 40 requests for cake. 21 prisoners declined to eat anything, and one man requested to fast.

    A 2012 study by Cornell University found that the average final meal contained 2.5 times the recommended daily intake of fat  ............

  • and protein. Researchers attributed the high calorie count to prisoner’s lack of an anticipated future. At the end of their findings, researchers concluded death row inmates who are asked to choose their last meals are, in effect, “exposed to one of the most extreme conditions of mortality salience that one can imagine.”


    For his last meal, Arkansas inmate Ricky Ray Rector requested steak, fried chicken, cherry Kool-Aid, and a slice of pecan pie. Rector had a habit of saving his sweets until bedtime, and so he put the pecan pie on the side of his plate. When the guards came to take him away he told them he was “saving it for later.”

    In 1981 Ricky Ray, who had a history of mental illness, killed a man in a nightclub and wounded two others. After wandering Conway, Arkansas for three days, he returned to his mother’s house to turn himself in to a police officer he had known since childhood. During negotiations Rector shot the officer in the back, then walked into his mother’s garden and shot himself in the temple, effectively lobotomizing himself.

  • In court, several experts provided conflicting testimony on whether Rector was competent to stand trial. A judge ruled he was and a jury convicted Ricky Ray on both counts of murder, sentencing him to death. He was executed by lethal injection in 1992. Prison logs showed that in Rector’s final days he howled and barked like a dog. He also danced and laughed “at inappropriate times.” He said he would vote for Clinton in the coming election.

    Due to Rector’s weight and antipsychotic medications, it took more than fifty minutes for medical staff to find a suitable vein. Rector’s arm was ultimately slashed to insert a catheter to administer his lethal dose. Thinking that his executioners were doctors coming to his aid, he attempted to help.

    Governor Clinton flew home to Arkansas to observe the execution. Democrats, Clinton said, should no longer feel guilty about protecting the innocent.

  • VII.

    Why the Texas Senate Criminal Justice Committee suspended its practice of granting last meals to prisoners (a few theories):


    There is no chance—no being born to abusive parents or drug addicts, being born male and black, being born into poverty, being born mentally ill, being born into illiteracy—that lands someone in prison. The death row population is there by choice. Those condemned to death made choices that removed them from humanity altogether. Therefore, they are not entitled to human privileges, and particularly not to human comforts. “Let him eat the same meal on the chow line as the others.”


    Admitting wrongdoing is an intrinsic part of seeking forgiveness. Weakness is an intrinsic part of admitting wrongdoing. The Texas Senate Criminal Justice Committee is not weak. The Texas Senate Criminal Justice Committee is not wrong. The Texas Senate Criminal Justice Committee does not have to  ............

  • seek forgiveness from anybody, let alone those condemned to death.


    “Guilt is never to be doubted.” —Kafka


    The inmate in charge of cleaning the death chamber after executions in Huntsville, Texas says the windows of the witness room are harder to wash than the gurneys on which the convicts’ bodies are laid. The glass is smeared with handprints, dried tears, and lipstick stains from loved ones kissing and reaching for them as they pass.


    The last last meal granted to a prisoner in the state of Texas went to Lawrence Russell Brewer, a white supremacist sentenced to death for dragging an African American man to death. Brewer and his two friends used a 24-foot logging chain to bind James  ............

  • Byrd Jr. to a pickup truck by the ankles. Byrd was conscious for three miles. The autopsy reported the brain inside his skull remained intact. Brewer and his friends left Byrd’s body where the pavement ended, between an African American church and a cemetery. The police found Byrd’s remains spewed alongside the road in 81 separate places. At first they thought they had come upon road kill. After the killing, Brewer and his friends had attended a barbecue.

    The Byrd family asked for Brewer’s life to be spared. “You can’t fight murder with murder,” said Ross, James’s 33- year-old son. “[Brewer] has no remorse and I feel sorry for him, but forgiveness brings about healing. We already made peace with it a long time ago.”


    After the Texas Senate Criminal Justice Committee announced it would no longer grant last meal requests, a former inmate who had cooked the last meals for 218 death row prisoners in Huntsville offered to keep cooking for free. It wouldn’t cost the  ............

  • taxpayers anything.

    “We have to show we are not distorting justice with revenge,” the cook said. “Not to minimize these crimes, the majority of them have earned their place at that dinner table.”

    He was concerned that if the Texas state penitentiary denied the prisoners a last meal then the members of the judiciary system was in some way denying its own capacity for human compassion.

    Texas declined. After all, the final meals had never cost taxpayers anything. They were cooked with whatever was already in the prison kitchen.

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