Not too long ago, I stumbled upon a website that combines two very personal issues for me: food and the death penalty. And please forgive me in advance for bringing up such a grisly topic, but I find this all so fascinating and I really wanted to share with you.
Julie Green is an artist who has been painting ceramic plates since 2000. To be more exact, she paints scenes representing final meal requests made by death row inmates. As of early 2011, Green had completed almost five hundred but says she will continue painting fifty more each year until our country does away with the death penalty.
I personally think she’ll be painting for a very, very long time.
Why is this an emotional issue for me? It may stem from my years living in Gainesville, Florida, after Danny Rolling had been tried and convicted of brutally stalking and murdering five college students during a three-day long mutilation and killing spree. One victim’s mother was a frequent customer at the pharmacy where I worked and I’ll admit that it was hard not to stare at her whenever she came in to pick up her prescriptions.
Though it has been quite a few years since Rolling’s execution, I knew this Last Supper plate represented him, simply because he always felt he was entitled to the best of everything. And to read the words painted on the bottom that were spoken by a prison official, “He enjoyed his last meal. He ate every bite,” just turns my stomach. Of course he enjoyed his last meal. Danny Rolling was a sick bastard.
However, there is another side to this execution business. As repulsed as I found myself after discovering the self-indulgence served on Rolling’s plate, I was just as repulsed when I came upon these next two two plates – look at the year of death and the state in which they happened, look at the ages of these “criminals” and consider what it meant that their last meals were fried chicken and watermelon. Reading from the cultural history of time and place, one can only assume that these were black children, perhaps trying to find a final comfort in the foods their mothers would never be able to make for them again. I’ve tried to find some information about who they were and what crimes they had allegedly committed, but I have had no luck. They were just two more nameless blacks killed in the Deep South, yet they were only children.
If you’re interested in more plates laden with criminal history, take a look at this one and keep in mind that this inmate killed five children when he set their home on fire after ransacking the place. He knew they were inside. Or this one representing a man accused of killing a police officer by shooting him in the head with a .38. He held off to the end in the hopes of gaining a stay and, eventually, being cleared of any crime. He steadfastly declared his innocence and requested no final meal.
Finally, there is this plate, filled with two and a half pounds of onion rings and two dozen fried shrimp, among a gluttonous list of other foods, to represent the last meal of someone who strangled a 65-year old man with a mental illness.
And, in case you Oklahomans were ever curious, Pizza Hut is apparently a popular contributor to our death row inmates’ final meal requests.