Last meal

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A condemned prisoner's last meal is a customary ritual preceding execution. Various countries have various traditions in this regard. The "little glass of rum" is granted to the condemned in historical France in the minutes before execution, but no formal last meal as the condemned learns of their impending execution only on the fatal morning, generally just minutes in advance.[1] In the United States, alcohol is not usually allowed.

In many countries, the prisoner may, within reason, select what the last meal will be.


In pre-modern Europe, granting the condemned a last meal has roots in superstition in that a meal was a highly symbolic social act. Accepting freely offered food symbolized making 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 witness(es). The ritual was supposed to prevent the condemned from returning as a ghost or revenant to haunt those responsible for his or her killing. As a superstitious precaution, the better the food and drink, the safer the condemned's oath of truce. The law of 18th-century England, however, as noted by Blackstone's Commentaries on the Laws of England, ca. 1765, made no such concession and stated that "during the short but awful interval between sentence and execution, the prisoner shall be kept alone, and sustained with only bread and water".[2]

The provision of alcohol to the condemned may well have its roots in biblical times: "Give strong drink unto him that is ready to perish, and wine unto those that be of heavy hearts."[Proverbs 31:6] The Talmud instructs that those condemned to death are to be intoxicated before execution is carried out, most likely drawing from this verse.

Contemporary restrictions[edit]

In the United States, most states give the meal a day or two before execution and use the euphemism "special meal". Alcohol or tobacco are usually denied. Unorthodox or unavailable requests are replaced with substitutes. Some states place tight restrictions. In Florida, the food for the last meal must be purchased locally and the cost is limited to $40.[3] In Oklahoma, cost is limited to $15. In Louisiana, the prison warden traditionally joins the condemned prisoner for the last meal. On one occasion, the warden paid for an inmate's lobster dinner.[4]

Sometimes, a prisoner shares the last meal with another inmate (as Francis Crowley did with John Resko) or has the meal distributed among other inmates (as requested by Raymond Fernandez).[5]

In September 2011, the state of Texas abolished all special last-meal requests after condemned prisoner Lawrence Russell Brewer requested a huge last meal and did not eat any of it, saying he was not hungry. His last-meal request was for a plate of two chicken-fried steaks with gravy and sliced onions, a triple-patty bacon cheeseburger, a cheese omelet with ground beef, tomatoes, onions, bell peppers and jalapeños, a bowl of fried okra with ketchup, a pound of barbecued meat with half of a loaf of white bread, a portion of three fajitas, a meat-lover’s pizza (topped with pepperoni, ham, beef, bacon, and sausage), a pint of Blue Bell, a serving of ice cream, a slab of peanut-butter fudge with crushed peanuts, and a serving equivalent to three root beers (normally non-alcoholic). The abolition followed a complaint by a Texas Senator, John Whitmire (Democrat, of Houston), who called the meal "inappropriate".[6][7][8][9] The tradition of customized last meals is thought to have been established around 1924 in Texas.[10]

Documented last meal requests[edit]

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

Notorious condemned prisoners[edit]




United States[edit]

Other prisoner requests[edit]

See also[edit]


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Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]