The Last Supper
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. I admired family quilts and ukiyo-e prints in our Iowa home, and the neighbor’s yard with larger-than-life historical figures and a 20’ American flag made with ears of colored corn. Appreciation for homemade and handmade led me to paint blue food.
For me, final meal requests humanize each death row inmate. 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.”
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, Texas stopped the practice and became the only death penalty state that simply serves 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.
The Last Supper illustrates the meal requests of U.S. death row inmates. Numerous Texas plates are included, of course. Historical menus are a recent addition to the series; those from Folsom prison serve to point to the 740 inmates on death row today in California. Cobalt blue mineral paint is applied to second-hand ceramic plates, then kiln-fired to 1400 degrees by technical advisor Sandy Houtman.
800 meals 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. Twenty years later, I still wonder.
Julie Green email@example.com www.greenjulie.com
In the twenty years of this project, numbers of death sentences have dropped dramatically. The year 1997 had 295 sentences, 2017 had 39.
Although the United States is considered a death penalty country, executions are rare or non-existent in much of the nation. Roughly half of the 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.
1483 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)
1 New Mexico
0 New Hampshire
3 U.S Federal Government
20 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)
Death Penalty Information Center 11 October 2018 www.deathpenaltyinfo.org