How Sam Lipsyte’s Fiction Got Me Thinking About The Death Penalty

herocious

If you knew that tomorrow you’d be dead, what would you eat the night before, assuming you could have anything, anything at all?

I don’t mean to be morbid. The only reason I ask is because I just learned about something called a LAST MEAL, sometimes referred to as a SPECIAL MEAL to take away the finality of the act.

If you’ve never heard about this amenity of the prison system,

Legally condemned people are given the option to request a last meal. Restrictions differ between states and countries on what is allowed, but, in general, alcohol and cigarettes aren’t permitted because they dull the senses.

Some states set a monetary limit to this decadent meal, some set a radius for how far they’ll travel to satisfy any given request, others only allow a mix of what’s available within their state prison system.

Requests and actual meals (sometimes they differ) are recorded for entertainment purposes, at least I can’t see any other reason why the final orders of death row denizens are made public.

Just like I can’t see any other reason why people spectate the offing of these prisoners.

For me, the death penalty is evil. Maybe if it were carried out by an Infallible Judge some of its evil would be justified. But all judges are ordinary people. All judges are fallible. All judges are fuck ups.

And it’s these ordinary, fallible fuck ups that pronounce death on prisoners.

The irreversible death penalty is human, it can’t be anything but human, yet the power it wields over life is above-human, is everlasting, and that holds it suspect in my book.

This is my idealistic rambling. Yes, of course there are flaws in it because, well, I’m human. But I felt like writing, like taking sides despite the voice asking me, “How does your stance against the death penalty jibe with your stance on aborting fetuses?” I hear this voice and my mind wants me to think of an answer that’s consistent, but my heart tells me this contradiction is all right, to be against the death penalty and pro-choice.

I digress.

To get back on topic and flesh things out a bit more,

Here’s another human’s take on the death penalty, a fictional one from Sam Lipsyte’s newest novel THE ASK:

But don’t get me wrong. I’m all for capital punishment. I’m a huge death penalty guy. I like everything about it. And don’t tell me how it’s more expensive to the taxpayer than life sentences. Because if you ask me, we should pony up a little more. We should feel the cost of our ritual, revel in it. It was probably a drain on the Aztec economy to capture and drug all those people and carve out their living hearts, but are you going to tell me it wasn’t worth it? Yes, sir, the death penalty is where it’s at. Is there a chance innocent people die? I should fucking hope so! Innocent people die constantly in this world. Why should things be better for those scumbags in lockdown?

There. Now that things are sufficiently fleshed, tonight’s menu:

INDIANA LAST MEAL
MATTHEW ERIC WRINKLES
December 11, 2009

Wrinkles had a final meal request of a prime rib with a “loaded” baked potato, pork chops with steak fries, two salads with ranch dressing and rolls.

OHIO LAST MEAL
KENNETH BIROS
December 8, 2009

Biros had a final meal request of a cheese pizza, onion rings, fried mushrooms, chips with French onion dip, cherry pie, blueberry ice cream and a Dr. Pepper.

TEXAS LAST MEAL
BOBBY WAYNE WOODS
December 3, 2009

Woods had a final meal request of two chicken-fried steaks, two fried chicken breasts, three fried pork chops, two hamburgers with lettuce, tomato, onion and salad dressing, four slices of bread, half a pound of fried potatoes with onion, half a pound of onion rings with ketchup, half a pan of chocolate cake with icing and two pitchers of milk.

TEXAS LAST MEAL
ROBERT LEE THOMPSON
November 19, 2009

Thompson had a final meal request of fried chicken, french fries, onion rings, fried okra, jalapeno pepper and milk.

TEXAS LAST MEAL
DANIELLE NATHANIEL SIMPSON
November 18, 2009

Simpson had a final meal request of four pieces of fried chicken, biscuits and gravy and milk.

VIRGINIA LAST MEAL
LARRY BILL ELLIOTT
November 17, 2009

Elliott requested that his final meal not be revealed to the public.

TEXAS LAST MEAL
KHRISTIAN PHILLIP OLIVER
November 5, 2009

Oliver had a final meal request of fried chicken, a pint of chocolate ice cream and coffee.

GEORGIA LAST MEAL
MARK HOWARD MCCLAIN
October 20, 2009

McClain had no final meal request.

September 15, 2010 12:10 pm

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