Texas Turns Down Cook's Offer Of Free 'Last Meals'

Sep 27, 2011
Originally published on September 27, 2011 4:42 pm

Last week the state of Texas said it would no longer let condemned prisoners order practically anything they want for their last meals before execution.

As we reported, "the huge meal that white supremacist Lawrence Russell Brewer ordered and then left untouched before his execution ... convinced Texas officials to end the state's traditional practice." Among the foods he was given: a bacon cheeseburger, three fajitas, a pound of barbecue, a pizza and a pint of ice cream."

Here's a quick update on the Texas decision:

Brian Price, who when he was an inmate in Texas worked in the prison kitchen and prepared about 200 last meals, now runs a restaurant in East Texas. He's offered to prepare future last meals for free. "Taxpayers will be out nothing," he told The Associated Press.

The state says thanks, but no thanks.

Texas Department of Criminal Justice spokeswoman Michelle Lyons told the Los Angeles Times that Price's proposal is "a kind offer." But, she said, "it's not the cost but rather the concept we're moving away from."

As we wrote last week, the plan from here on is for Texas death row inmates to be given last meals that come from the same kitchen that prepares food for other prisoners.

Update at 4 p.m. ET. Price Says A Last Meal Is The Compassionate Thing To Do:

Earlier this afternoon, All Things Considered host Melissa Block spoke with Price, the former prison cook who offered to provide free last meals. Price, who the Times says was sentenced to 15 years in prison for convictions related to a sexual assault on his ex-wife and the abduction of a brother-in-law, spent more than 10 years preparing last meals. After his release in 2003, he wrote a book called Meals to Die For.

Price doubts Brewer was really given all the food he asked for. His experience in the Texas system, Price said, was that prisoners might ask for a lot — but the food still came from the prison kitchen unless a guard or other prison official decided to bring something special in. And requests for unusually large amounts of food were not granted, Price said.

As for the merits of a special last meal, during his conversation with Melissa, Price made the case that "as a civilized society and a Christian nation ... why not ... show that softer, more compassionate side?"

Granted, Price said, most murderers don't offer their victims last meals. "But ... are we going to lower ourselves to that same level as that crime that was committed and be so cold and heartless?"

Much more from the interview will be on today's All Things Considered. Click here to find an NPR station that broadcasts or streams the show. Later, we'll add the as-broadcast version of their conversation to the top of this post.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host: When asked what he wanted for his last meal on Earth, Texas death row inmate Lawrence Russell Brewer went big. He asked for two chicken-fried steaks with gravy and sliced onions; a triple patty bacon cheeseburger; a cheese, beef and veggie omelet; a bowl of fried okra; one pound of barbecued meat with a half-loaf of white bread; three fajitas; a Meat Lover's pizza; one pint of Bluebell Ice Cream; a slab of peanut butter fudge; and three root beers.

Then he chose not to eat it. Well, that over-the-top order incensed one Texas state senator, and his complaints led the state prison system to announce it would end its tradition of last-meal requests on death row. So former Texas inmate and prison cook Brian Price stepped forward and offered to prepare and pay for all of the state's last-meal requests himself.

He says that even before the policy change, last-meal requests rarely resembled the meal that was ultimately delivered.

BRIAN PRICE: Texas Department of Corrections has a policy that on the last-meal request, it has to be prepared from items that's right there in the prison commissary. And if it's something like a lobster, all they would get is a piece of fish, frozen pollock. Now, I would do my best to make it more palatable, and make it look like something from the free world. I'd wash the breading off, cut it diagonally, and dip it in a batter so it would look like something like, from Long John Silver's.

But like this man said, he wanted a Meat Lover's pizza. No, that didn't come in unless there happened to be a compassionate officer or a chaplain or warden paid for it out of their own pockets. The state was out absolutely nothing.

BLOCK: The Texas prison system, Mr. Price, has turned down your offer to make these last meals, pay for them yourself. They say it's not a cost issue; that they're moving away from the practice. And the Texas state senator who's been leading this effort, John Whitmire, says that the inmates who were being executed didn't give any of this consideration to their victims. Their victims weren't given a last meal. What do you make of that argument?

PRICE: Well, that's an age-old argument, Melissa. And I'll tell you a little story. My friend Manny Lopez was a porter that cleaned the death chamber after the executions. And Manny once told me - he said, Brian, he said, it doesn't bother me to go in there and wipe the bloody gurney off. And he said, none of that bothers me.

He said, well, when I go in that witness chamber and I have to wipe off the handprints, the smeared lipstick and makeup, the tears mixed with all that on that glass, where that man's family watched him being executed, he said, that's what bothers me. What if that was your son on that gurney and you're on the other side of that glass, watching him be put to death like an animal, how would you feel then? Would you have gone out and got him a Meat Lover's pizza if you could? Of course, you would've. So as a civilized society and a Christian nation, which I still claim - and a Christian state, as the state of Texas - then why not? Let's show that softer, more compassionate side.

BLOCK: When you're cooking for inmates on death row for their last meal, what could you tell about them from their request?

PRICE: Well, like one man - I can't think of his name now, murdered a lady up in Waco - I believe he wanted butter beans for his last meal. So then you start trying to psychoanalyze him. And I believe those butter beans was something, possibly, that his mother had cooked when he was a child.

Maybe when he would see and taste those butter beans, and smell that smell, it would take him back to that time when he was sitting around that dinner table with his siblings, and mom bringing them to him. And the happier times - and trying to recall, right before he leaves this planet, maybe something fond. And to leave here with good memories, knowing where he's fixing to meet his maker here within the next hour and 45 minutes, when he's eating that meal.

BLOCK: Brian Price, thank you very much.

PRICE: Thank you so much, Melissa. I appreciate it.

BLOCK: Brian Price cooked about 200 last meals for inmates on Texas's death row. He's the author of the book "Meals to Die For." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.