Opinion

No Life, No Pizza: Texas Mulls End to Last Meals

You’re chained up to a pickup truck and being dragged along a bumpy road. You’re thinking about how your life is going to end after just a few more minutes of torture. After you’re dead and your attacker has gone to jail and been given the death penalty, he or she has until the day of their civil death to choose what their last meal will be.

The above is what happened to James Byrd Jr. in Texas over a decade ago. I am using this travesty to illustrate another injustice that gives criminals the opportunity to request a decadent last meal after waiting in prison on death row. Lawrence Russell Brewer, executed Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2011, requested for his last meal “two chicken fried steaks, a triple-meat bacon cheeseburger, fried okra, a pound of barbecue, three fajitas, a meat lover’s pizza, a pint of ice cream and a slab of peanut butter fudge with crushed peanuts,” prison officials in Jasper, Texas said. “He did not eat any of it.”

This horrible incident prompted all Texas prisons to abolish the last meal policy completely. On one side, a killer’s life is being ended, and one last request is not hard to accommodate.

On the other side, the person is still a killer! Why do they deserve a last request? His or her victim sure did not get a last request.
“Every state should have the last meal policy,” Alissa Stark, a UT senior majoring in business management, said. “There should be no limit. The death penalty is fair, but too long of a process. It is expensive to keep people in jail.”

I am not unreasonable. A person is still a person apart from the fact that they may not have a conscience.

A better idea than calling the whole last meal policy caput would be putting a limit on how expensive a meal can be. Florida’s limit is $40.
“I would want the choice,” marine biology major Shelby Strunk, a UT junior, said, “but other states should follow Texas.”

Texan prisons are discussing the end of last meals for inmates on Death Row. | Nathaniel St. Amour/Minaret

I would want the choice of a last meal also if I knew my life was about to end, but would I deserve it?

This is the big question here. The death penalty is not taken lightly. People on death row are there for a reason; they committed hateful, vicious crimes!

The fact that Brewer, Byrd’s murderer, did not touch a morsel of the gluttonous meal he requested shows he may have been trying to stick it to the prison.

“It is extremely inappropriate to give a person sentenced to death such a privilege,” Sen. John Whitmire, chairman of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee said.

On a similar note, Claire Handville, freshman with an undecided major, said “It is not necessary to reward criminals for heinous crimes.”
While there are other people on death row who may embrace their last meal, Brewer, and I’m sure many others, take advantage of the last meal privilege because their lives are ending in a matter of hours.

Freshman, Lindsay Pellegrini, undecided major, said, “Prisoners should get a last meal if the prisoner or their family pays for it.” This poses an interesting point. The question stemming from there would be, should the family be able to prepare it themselves? Should they be able to bring take-out?

Should the meal be mandated to be from the prison kitchen? Any subject touching the death penalty is sticky, but do criminals deserve rights? Prison is a place to punish wrongdoers. Rights and privileges, meaning last meal requests, should be rare.

Texas has the second highest population out of the 50 states following California.

California, Florida and Texas have executed the highest number of prison inmates compared to the rest of the 50 states.

While the source could be solely related to the large populations, being in the south definitely plays a part in the number of those executed in these highly occupied states.

With the amount of violence, theft, murder, rape, robbery and assault skyrocketing in the US over the past couple years, there is a higher need for space in prisons. This is not to say that states are being more lenient about putting offenders to death, but it can be rightfully insinuated.
On the other hand, prisoners spend a lot of time in prison before they receive their lethal injection. The US has stopped the use of the electric chair and gas chambers for civility reasons.

The US is not perfect, but it is the safest, most free place to live. While injustices occur all the time, this is true of any place in the world.

The death penalty is just one controversial aspect of the US government. I think the death penalty is necessary as long as there is not a shadow of a doubt that the person is guilty.

However, if someone is in prison for life, I see it as doing that person a favor by executing that person, instead of wasting his or her life away behind bars. The solitude and violence in prison could also be seen as part of the punishment for those in prison for life.
While murder cannot correct another murder, certain people are hazardous to a peaceful community. In order to live in peace, Americans must find a way to feel safe and see justice prevail.

Anna Westerholm can be reached at
anna.westerholm@spartans.ut.edu

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