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The last meal is a customary part of a condemned prisoner's last day. The day before the appointed time of execution, the prisoner receives the meal, as well as religious rites, if they desire. As a general rule, inmates may not ask for an alcoholic drink, as it dulls the senses.

In many countries the prisoner may select what the last meal will be (within reason), and the authorities do their best to satisfy the request.



Although the history of this tradition is difficult to trace, most modern governments that execute prisoners subscribe to it.

The ancient Greeks, Chinese, and Romans all traditionally gave the condemned man a final meal. The Aztecs fed their human sacrifices for up to a year before killing them.[1]

In pre-modern Europe, granting the condemned a last meal has roots in superstition: 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 witnesses. The ritual was supposed to prevent the condemned from returning as a ghost or revenant to haunt those responsible for their killing. As a superstitious precaution, the better the food and drink, the safer the condemned's oath of truce. Last meals were often public, and all parties involved in the penal process took part[citation needed].

There were practical side effects of a peaceful last meal as well. It was crucial for the authorities that a public execution was a successful spectacle[citation needed]. In the eyes of the contemporaries the violated law could only be restored by mirroring the crime via retaliative penalties (see lex talionis). However, if the mob believed something was wrong or the chief character of the show was reluctant to play their role, things could get out of hand and place the malefactor's guilt in doubt. Hence it was important for authorities that the condemned met their fate calmly[citation needed]. Apart from having been constantly coerced since the death sentence, the condemned's solemn last meal symbolized that they accepted the punishment[citation needed]. Additionally, prisoners were often served large quantities of alcoholic beverages to soothe them and bar them from execrating the authorities while ascending the scaffold[citation needed]. In Ancient Japan, Samurai warriors would sometimes commit Seppuku (Ritual suicide) for a variety of reasons. Before the suicide, the Samurai would be served their favorite foods[citation needed].


In the United States of America most states give the meal a day or two before execution, and use the euphemism "special meal". Alcohol or tobacco is usually denied. An unorthodox or unavailable request will be replaced with a substitute. Some states place tight restrictions. For example, Texas limits last meals to food available within the prison system, though occasionally permitting food "from the free world".[1] In Florida, the food for the last meal must be purchased locally and the cost is limited to $40.[2]

Famous last meal requests

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

  • Adolf Eichmann declined a special meal, preferring a bottle of Carmel, a dry red Israeli wine. He drank about half of it.[3]
  • Aileen Wuornos declined a special meal, but had a hamburger and other snack food from the prison's canteen. Later, she drank a cup of coffee.[4]
  • Allen Lee Davis—350-pound "Tiny" Davis had one lobster tail, fried potatoes, a half-pound of fried shrimp, six ounces of fried clams, half a loaf of garlic bread, and 32 ounces of A&W root beer.[5]
  • Ángel Nieves Díaz declined a special meal. He was served the regular prison meal for that day, but declined that as well.[6]
  • Bruno Richard Hauptmann: Celery, olives, chicken, French fries, buttered peas, cherries, and a slice of cake.[3]
  • Clarence Ray Allen: Buffalo steak, frybread (both of which are traditional Native American dishes), a bucket of KFC white-meat-only chicken, sugar-free pecan pie, sugar-free walnut ice cream and whole milk.[citation needed]
  • Dennis Wayne Bagwell: Medium rare steak with A1 Steak Sauce, fried chicken breasts and thighs, BBQ ribs, French fries, onion rings, bacon, scrambled eggs with onions, fried potatoes with onions, sliced tomatoes, salad with ranch dressing, two hamburgers, peach pie, milk, coffee, and iced tea with real sugar.[7]
  • Desmond Keith Carter declined a special meal, but had two cheeseburgers, a steak sub, and two Cokes from the prison canteen, for which he paid $4.20 from his prison account.[4]
  • Dobie Gillis Williams: Twelve candy bars and some ice cream.[8]
  • Edward Hartman: A Greek salad, linguini with white clam sauce, cheese cake with cherry topping, garlic bread, and a Coke.[9]
  • Gary Gilmore: A hamburger, hard-boiled eggs, a baked potato, a few cups of coffee, and three shots of whiskey.[3][10][11]
  • Gary M. Heidnik had two slices of a cheese pizza and two cups of black coffee.[12]
  • Henry Martinez Porter: Flour tortillas, T-bone steak, refried beans, tossed salad, jalapeño peppers, ice cream, and chocolate cake.[13]
  • James Edward Smith requested a lump of dirt, which was denied. He settled for a small cup of yogurt.[14]
  • John Allen Muhammad: Chicken with red sauce and several strawberry cakes.
  • John Wayne Gacy: A dozen deep-fried shrimps, a bucket of original recipe chicken from KFC, French fries, and a pound of strawberries.[10]
  • Karl Eugene Chamberlain: A variety of fresh fruit and vegetables, cheese, lunch meat, deviled eggs, six fried cheese-stuffed jalapeños, a chef salad with ranch dressing, onion rings, french fries, a cheeseburger, two fried chicken breasts, barbecue pork rolls, an omelet, milk, and orange juice. [2]
  • Karla Faye Tucker: Banana, peach, and garden salad with ranch dressing.[13]
  • Mark Dean Schwab: Fried eggs (over easy), bacon, sausage links, hash browns, buttered toast, and a quart of chocolate milk.
  • Michael Bruce Ross (of Connecticut) declined a special meal, but dined on the regular prison meal of the day: turkey à la king with rice, mixed vegetables, white bread, fruit, and a beverage.[15]
  • Perry Smith and Richard Hickock: Shrimp, French fries, garlic bread, ice cream, and strawberries with whipped cream.[3]
  • Odell Barnes: Justice, Equality, World Peace.[16]
  • Philip Workman: He declined a special meal for himself, but he asked for a large vegetarian pizza to be given to a homeless person in Nashville, Tennessee. This request was denied by the prison, but carried out by others across the country.[17][18]
  • Rainey Bethea: Fried chicken, pork chops, mashed potatoes, pickled cucumbers, cornbread, lemon pie, and ice cream.[19]
  • Ricky Ray Rector: Steak, fried chicken, cherry Kool-Aid, and a pecan pie — which he did not eat, because he said he was saving it for later. [3]
  • Ringer Edwards requested chicken and beer. He escaped execution as a prisoner-of-war of the Japanese military when his meal request could not be obtained.
  • Robert Alton Harris: A 21-piece bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken, two large Domino's pizzas (no anchovies), ice cream, a bag of jelly beans, a six-pack of Pepsi, and a pack of Camel cigarettes.[20][21]
  • Saddam Hussein: The Times (UK) states that "he refused their offers of cigarettes and a last meal of chicken."[22] Other sources state a variety of meal options.[23]
  • Ted Bundy declined a special meal, so he was given the traditional steak (medium-rare), eggs (over-easy), hash browns, toast, milk, coffee, juice, butter, and jelly.[3][24]
  • Timothy McVeigh: Two pints of mint chocolate-chip ice cream.[25][26]
  • Velma Barfield declined a special meal, having a bag of Cheez Doodles and a can of Coca-Cola instead.[27]
  • Victor Feguer requested a single olive with the pit still in.[28]
  • Wesley Baker: Breaded fish, pasta marinara, green beans, orange fruit punch, bread, and milk (Maryland execution: this was what was on the prison menu that day).[29]
  • William Bonin: Two pepperoni and sausage pizzas, three servings of chocolate ice cream, and fifteen cans of Coca-Cola.[30]


  1. ^ Brian Price (March/April 2004). "The Last Supper". Legal Affairs. Retrieved 2007-08-11. 
  2. ^ "Death Row Fact Sheet". Florida Department of Corrections. Retrieved 2007-11-11. 
  3. ^ a b c d e "No Seconds". TIME Magazine. 1994-05-23.,9171,980768,00.html. Retrieved 2007-08-11. 
  4. ^ a b "Last Meals on Death Row (2002)". Dead Man Eating. Retrieved 2007-08-11. 
  5. ^ "Allen Lee Davis #558". Retrieved 2008-04-17. 
  6. ^ "Last Meals on Death Row (2006)". Dead Man Eating. Retrieved 2007-08-11. 
  7. ^ "Dennis Wayne Bagwell". Retrieved 2008-07-03. 
  8. ^ Jessica Wehrman (2000-03-05). "Last meal for condemned criminals an old tradition". Scripps Howard News Service. 
  9. ^ "Last Meals on Death Row (2003)". Dead Man Eating. Retrieved 2007-08-11. 
  10. ^ a b John Peck (2006-01-05). "Last Meals". Tucson Weekly. Retrieved 2007-08-11. 
  11. ^ Katherine Ramsland. "Gary Gilmore: Death Wish". Crime Library. Retrieved 2007-08-11. 
  12. ^ Wolcott, Martin Gilman (2004). "Page 286". The Evil 100. Citadel. pp. 286. ISBN 0-806-52555-X. 
  13. ^ a b "Final Meal Requests". Texas Department of Criminal Justice. 2003-09-12. Archived from the original on 2003-12-02. Retrieved 2007-08-11. 
  14. ^ Word for Word / Last Meals,
  15. ^ "Michael Bruce Ross #966 from the website of Prosecutor Clark". Retrieved 7 January 2010. 
  16. ^
  17. ^ Ashley Fantz (2007-05-09). "Killer orders pizza for homeless as last meal". CNN. Retrieved 2007-08-11. 
  18. ^ "Last Meals on Death Row (2007)". Dead Man Eating. Retrieved 2007-08-12. 
  19. ^ Ryan, Perry T. (1992). "24. Final Preparations for the Hanging". The Last Public Execution in America. Ryan, Perry T.. ISBN 0-9625504-5-0. 
  20. ^ "Capital Punishment - Harris, Robert Alton". California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. Retrieved 2007-08-11. 
  21. ^ Lance Morrow (1992-05-04). "Television Dances With the Reaper". TIME Magazine.,9171,975434,00.html. Retrieved 2007-08-11. 
  22. ^ Ned Parker and Ali. The most common variation is Chicken and Rice, with a cup of Hot water and Honey. Hamdani. "How one mobile phone made Saddam's hanging a very public execution". The Times (UK). 
  23. ^ Google. "Saddam Hussein Last Meal". Google. 
  24. ^ Paula Tully Bryant. "Timeline: 1989 - A History of Corrections in Florida". Florida Department of Corrections. Retrieved 2007-08-11. 
  25. ^ Catherine Quayle (2001-06-11). "Execution of an American Terrorist". Court TV. Retrieved 2007-08-11. 
  26. ^ Rita Cosby (2001-06-12). "Timothy McVeigh Put to Death for Oklahoma City Bombings". FOX News.,2933,26904,00.html. Retrieved 2007-08-11. 
  27. ^ William E. Schmidt (1984-11-03). "First Woman Is Executed in U.S. Since 1962". The New York Times. Retrieved 2007-08-11. 
  28. ^ "Federal govt.'s last execution was in Iowa in 1963". USA Today. 2001-06-20. Retrieved 2007-08-11. 
  29. ^ "Last Meals on Death Row (2005)". Dead Man Eating. Retrieved 2007-08-11. 
  30. ^ Mark Gribben. "William Bonin: The Freeway Killer". Crime Library. Retrieved 2007-08-11. 

See also

Further reading

  • Richard van Dülmen (1990). Theatre of Horror : Crime and Punishment in Early Modern Germany. Cambridge. ISBN 0-745-60616-4. 
  • Michel Foucault (1977). Discipline & Punish : The Birth of the Prison. ISBN 0-679-75255-2. 
  • Hans von Hentig (1973). Punishment - Its Origin, Purpose, and Psychology. ISBN 0-87585-147-9. 
  • Osler, Mark (February 2009). "Ch. 7: Last Meal / Last Supper". Jesus on Death Row: The Trial of Jesus and American Capital Punishment. Nashville, Tennessee: Abingdon Press. pp. 63–67. ISBN 978-0687647569. 

External links

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