But meals play another important role in correctional facilities, particularly when we start thinking about "last meals" afforded to death row inmates. In debates over whether modern societies should still use the death penalty, or what particular means to death should be allowed, the ritual of a prisoner's last requests is rarely discussed. Typically, inmates are granted a final meal 'within reasonable limits' that is often prepared by prisoners themselves. Often there's a disparity between what prisoners receive in actuality and what the prisons report on their websites or in their press releases. The public could hardly be bothered by the daily content of these inmates' diets, but news of their last meal meets morbid curiosity. Some examples of recent inmates meals:
- Charles Edward Smith--nine tacos, nine enchiladas, french fries, a salad with ranch dressing, beef fajitas, a bowl of picante sauce, a bowl of shredded cheese, six jalapeno peppers, a strawberry cake with strawberry frosting and 16 Pepsi's.
- Clyde Smith, Jr.--a cheeseburger.
- Ivan Murphy-- four pieces of fried chicken, five pieces of deep fried fish, four deep fried breaded pork chops, extra-large order of french fries, large order of onion rings, ketchup, tartar sauce, one pint of Blue Bell Moollennium Crunch ice cream, two quarts of chocolate milk.
I'm guessing what bothers me most, though, is where I got the information-- the site that collects this information on inmates' last meals, Dead Man Eating. It lists each meal before a graphic description of the crime for which the prisoner was executed and does so in such a flippant way that you can't figure out whether the site is for or against the use of capital punishment. The worst part of the site advertises its own merchandise--most disturbingly amongst the lot, a thong--with the following slogan scrawled across each: Dead Man Eating... looking for a killer meal?
While some early societies had the superstitious predisposition towards feeding those who were about to die in order to appease their spirits in the afterlife and deter them from haunting their murderers from the beyond, it seems that the last meal is now imposed upon prisoners as a final attempt at redemption... on the state's behalf. Take, for example, the last request of James Edward Smith, who asked for a lump of dirt; he was denied and settled for a small cup of yoghurt. Apparently the state only abides by last requests that flatter its own potential as a benefactor--to rationalize taking men's lives, it must appear to do so begrudgingly, not smugly.
And where do our dear presidential candidates fall on capital punishment? Both of them support the death penalty, but Obama's record as a state legislator in Illinois shows that he simultaneously fought for reform against wrongful convictions and supported IL's moratorium against capital punishment until the system could be fixed. He also partnered with law enforcement officials to require videotaping interrogations and confessions. I find it interesting that most supporters don't seem to be bothered that his veep pick was the author of a bill in 1994 that expanded the application of the death penalty to federal, non-violent drug traffickers, certainly compromising Obama's position of reform. Is reform too idealistic? Is drug trafficking just that awful? Or do we just not care how much of an outlier the U.S. is in relations to other democracies that have promoted abolition for ages?
While numerous other societies have long believed that a shift from authoritarianism to democracy requires the abolition of practices such as capital punishment, some of our states proudly post their executed inmates' last meals on websites of their Departments of Criminal Justice. Three cheers for democracy, right?