Art can be a meditation. For me, final meal requests humanize each death row inmate. As a kid, I shared my family’s support of Nixon and capital punishment. Now I don’t. Education, cooking, gardening, service, and handwork were, and are, a part of each day. Appreciation for homemade and handmade led me to paint blue food.
Oklahoma has higher per capita executions than Texas. I taught there, and that is how I came to read final meal requests in the morning paper. When you think of capital punishment in the U.S., you think of Texas. It has the largest number of executions, and for years, highly publicized final meals. Texas, home to those cattle ranches, didn’t allow steak. If you ordered steak, you got ground beef. In 2011, after one large meal was not consumed, they stopped the practice. Texas and Maryland are the only death penalty states that simply serve the standard prison meal. No alcohol, anywhere. Cigarettes are banned, but sometimes allowed. In states with options, most selections are modest. This is not surprising, as many are limited to what is in the prison kitchen. Others provide meals from local venues. California allows restaurant take-out, up to fifty-dollars. Pizza Hut, Wendy’s, and Long John Silver’s are frequently selected in Oklahoma, where their fifteen-dollar allowance is down from twenty in the late 1990’s. Requests provide clues on region, race, and economic background. A family history becomes apparent when Indiana Department of Corrections adds “he told us he never had a birthday cake so we ordered a birthday cake for him.”
The Last Supper illustrates the meal requests of U.S. death row inmates. Cobalt blue mineral paint is applied to second-hand plates, then kiln-fired by technical advisor Toni Acock. I am looking for a space to exhibit all the plates on a ten-year loan. 540 final meals, and two first meals on the outside for exonerated men, are completed to date. I plan to continue adding fifty plates a year until capital punishment is abolished.
Why do we have this tradition of final meals, I wondered, after seeing a request for six tacos, six glazed donuts, and a cherry Coke. Fifteen years later, I still wonder.
Julie Green firstname.lastname@example.org June 2013
Death Penalty Information Center
Although the United States is considered a death penalty country, executions are rare or non-existent in much of the nation. Twenty-five of 53 jurisdictions in the U.S. (50 states, the District of Columbia, the Federal Government, and the Military) either do not have the death penalty or have not carried out an execution in at least 10 years.
19 June 2013 1336 total U.S. state-sanctioned executions since 1976
State executions since 1976
43 North Carolina
43 South Carolina
3 South Dakota
2 Oregon (2012 moratorium)
0 New Hampshire
3 U.S Federal Government
18 states without the death penalty, and year abolished
New Jersey (2007)
New Mexico (2009)
New York (2007)
North Dakota (1973)
Rhode Island (1984)
West Virginia (1965)
and Dist. of Columbia (1981)