Could a criminal really request anything for a last meal?

Sure, he could ask for anything.

But he probably won’t get it.

The choice of a last meal, is to select from items normally available from the prison kitchen. Pork chops. Fried chicken. Roast beef. Codfish. Sliced turkey breast. Maybe a steak, but not Chateaubriand. Mashed or baked potatoes, or French Fries, but not twice-baked potato fromage. A simple salad, with an ordinary dressing. Common canned or frozen vegetable. Standard dinner roll or bread.

Some prisons will also honor a request for take-out from a nearby restaurant or fast-food place. Whoppers or pizza or Kung Pao Chicken or Popeye’s Spicy or the like.

The condemned can ask for two desserts if he wants, like ice cream and apple pie, or a brownie and apple crisp, or canned peaches and pudding. Within the range of stuff in the prison pantry, he will probably be given those things. But not a banana split or cherries jubilee.

He will not be given some preposterously large variety of foods, or inordinate amounts of anything. That has happened, with the condemned man then sneering “I ain’t hungry”, and everything thrown out. No more. Just a regular meal, with his choice based on what he most prefers from the range of normal prison fare or (maybe) readily-available and inexpensive take-out.

And no, he won’t be able to postpone his execution by dawdling over the food and saying “I ain’t done yet”. The last meal will be served several hours before the main event, and the dishes removed after a reasonable time to consume what he wants to eat.

No, nothing alcoholic. No, not fancy dishes or tablecloth or silverware or candles or flowers. A prison tray and tableware. Nothing he could use to fashion a weapon or suicide implement. No companions during dinner, except perhaps a clergy person. No TV or video connections with family or friends.

No, nothing he might be allergic to. Nothing he might use to choke himself, to cheat the executioner. And no chance to prepare anything for himself, like on a charcoal grill.

People — mainly kids — have all kinds of fantasies about “the last meal”. They dream about it being something elaborate or luxurious. A way to formulate an escape. An opportunity to cheat the executioner, by dying at his own hand. A stage, to go out with a flourish or to make some memorable statement. It is none of these.

Providing some choice in the menu for one’s last meal is only a courtesy extended by the State, to give the condemned some sense of dignity and control during his final hours. But his range of choices and degree of freedom are sharply limited.

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