Death row isn't known for its haute cuisine. So the infamous "special meal," to which residents are "treated" before execution, is an incongruous indulgence. It's a tradition going back as far as ancient Greece, although Socrates chose not to partake. In the modern U.S., inmates can ostensibly pick their own "poisons," but each state imposes certain limits. In Florida, the meal can't run more than $20 - after all, in some cases, the state is already footing a sizeable room-and-board bill. In Texas, which has the heaviest traffic in the death chamber, the meal has to be something easily produced in the prison's own canteen. Spokesman Jason Clark discussed the menu selection with Seven Days.
SEVEN DAYS: What is your role at the Texas Department of Corrections?
JASON CLARK: My title is public information officer. I'm a spokesperson for the prison system. I witness executions for the state and escort media to witness executions.
SD: There's a lot of talk about what people eat for their last meal, or "special meal." Is that really documented, or is this stuff all hearsay?
JC: It's documented, ma'am. In our information that we release to the public we kind of document their last three days, their last meal request, their last statement, time of death and a description of their crime. That is in the packet that we give to the media.
SD: I know that the rules and procedures vary by state. In Texas, how does the meal thing go down, so to speak?
JC: About a week or so [before the scheduled execution], we'll ask them what they want for their last meal. They need to be specific. The requests really vary by offender. Sometimes a really large meal, sometimes nothing at all.
Once that request comes in, we'll take a look at it. If there's something that we have there on the unit that the prison system can make, we'll make it for them. If they ask for something like lobster, we just can't accommodate that. We'll ask them to make another request.
SD: Are folks more likely to ask for fancy-schmancy stuff, or comfort food?
JC: I think a lot of it is what he's accustomed to. It's not often fancy stuff. They have a general idea of what they're gonna be able to get. Most of the time, the requests aren't too outlandish.
SD: What would you consider to be a typical request?
JC: I think that hamburgers or cheeseburgers are pretty high up there. They vary on the toppings. Some may want a double-meat cheeseburger with bacon.
SD: How long before the scheduled execution is the meal served?
JC: That can vary, depending. Normally it's a few hours before.
SD: I'm pretty sure that if it was my head on the chopping block, I wouldn't be able to eat a thing. Do people actually chow down?
JC: I'm not back there whenever they eat, so I don't know how to answer that one. I'd hate to speculate. My guess is that it probably depends on the person.
SD: What happens if there's a stay of execution? Do they get to go through the whole process again?
JC: Yes. What happens sometimes, too, is that offenders don't request a last meal and then change their minds at the end. We'll do our best to accommodate them. We also have cookies and other small-type items that are back there with them.
SD: Can you share some of the most interesting requests you've had of late?
JC: One was offender Gilberto Reyes, executed on June 21, 2007. He requested barbecued turkey legs, a bowl of cheddar cheese, sliced avocados and some smoked barbecued brisket.
Another is Newton Anderson, executed February 22, 2007. He requested boiled eggs, fried okra, pickles, potato salad, sliced onions, sliced jalapeño peppers, tacos, fried chicken, cabbage, tomatoes, French fries, bacon, Sprite and a baked potato with sour cream.