The last supper

Texas death row inmate Lawrence Russell Brewer was executed last Wednesday.  His execution has caused quite a stir.  Not among anti-death row activists mind you, no, they were busy protesting convicted cop killer Troy Davis’ (who had 12 courts uphold his conviction in a mass conspiracy) execution.  Perhaps if James Byrd were a police officer there would have been more outrage over Brewer’s sentence.  But I digress.

Brewer caused a stir with Texas Correction officials for not finishing his last meal which consisted of 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.

However, Brewer did not eat any of his last request.  This left Texas politicians in atither, who consided his ‘lack of appetite’ a waste.  At the behest of State Senator John Whitmire, Brad Livingston of the Texas DOC made the decision that:

“Effective immediately, no such accommodations will be made. They (death row inmates) will receive the same meal served to other offenders on the unit.”

There is a longstanding tradition in various corrections departments allowing the condemned the meal of their choice.  The general rule seems to be anything within reason.  Prison officials might balk at white rhino burgers and giraffe steaks; but normal steaks and burgers, lobster, pasta, etc. are all pretty much in bounds.  But not any more in the Lone Star State.

This may be a bit shocking.  But I think the Texas DOC is wrong by implementing this new ‘bread and water’ policy.  It seems to be motivated by retribution and spite more so than elimination of waste.  I can see where they are coming from, I really can.  Here is a man who participated in a murder which was of particular brutality.  Now the system has extended the courtesy of allowing him the last meal of his own life to be whatever he wishes, and it all goes in the trash.  It is a waste, and a slap in the face to the generosity of the State.

But as much as Brewer — and other convicted inmates awaiting their fate — do not deserve such a courtesy at the expense of the taxpayers; it should be done as a show of humanitarianism.  It offers an acknowledgment of human dignity to a man who is about to die.  One can imagine the thoughts racing through a condemned man’s head as he is about to meet the One to whom he is ultimately accountable.  No criminal sentence is imposed as a means of revenge or retribution.  It is [supposed to be] justice imposed for crimes committed.

Taking away the last meal, to me, smacks of spite and retribution, even though it is in no way a right or something owed to the condemned.  I say let them have it.

Comments

  1. Concur. Just posting as I, um, we’ll say non-concur with most of what you write. This sounds about right. There’s a reasonable argument to say that execution does not warrant special treatment, but this change of regulation does seem to be mean-spirited. One middle ground might be to allow anything within reason that can reasonably be consumed in one sitting.

    • I’ve thought about that too, jason — “reasonable portions”. But what if when you get everything, you only end up wanting one thing. For example, what if Brewer when he got his request, only wanted the BBQ and PB fudge? Or just the Pizza? So even though one might not be able to consume the entire request, they could eat portions of all, or eat entire components. I mean, who knows what you’ll be in the mood for just hours before you’re going to die?

      Now, I’d be willing to say each different item shouldnt be more than one person could possibly eat. Say you could order 1lb of fudge, but not 10 lbs. Or one large or maybe 2 large pizzas (I’ve seen some people put away a lot of pizza) but not 8 pizzas.

      So order a pizza, a pound of fudge, a lobster or 2, a steak or 2. But not so much of any one item that would be more than one person could eat.

  2. Terrance H. says:

    John,

    Humanitarianism? Human dignity? We kill people, John, guilty or not, and for no other reason than pure vengeance. I don’t think we, as a society, have any business talking about such things.

    I would also say that the jubilation with which you express your opinion – particularly in the first paragraph – is horrible. It’s akin to the way prochoicers dehumanize unborn children. It’s sickening and it’s wrong.

  3. Marshall Art says:

    Capital punishment is not revenge. It is justice. If it seems like revenge to you, then the problem lies within you that you do not view the situation with the right perspective. To say it is revenge suggests that there is some level of joy in the execution of the punishment. Though that may be true for some connected to the event, the sentence itself is not leveled with that attitude. Keep in mind that the sentence is attached to the crime (should one be found guilty) regardless of whether or not the crime is ever again committed. It is there before the crime is committed and deemed appropriate for the crime without any regard for personal loss, but to match punishment to crime.

    I would also say that I detected no particular jubilation on John’s part anywhere in his post. If you feel he was not solemn enough for your taste, that too is a problem of your own.

    As to the post itself, I agree that last meal requests should remain in effect as it does seem appropriate and does say something as regards charges of revenge in the application of CP. Anything requested by the condemned must be within reason, but once it is delivered to the condemned, it should be of no concern as to whether or not it is consumed. The state makes the offer and then should only concern itself with delivering.

  4. First Point:
    Having worked in the prison system, I was surprised by the luxury allowed the murders who I cared for as their medical provider. Their meals are far from “bread and water”. So a last meal that is the same as the meal of that day seems kind and far from dehumanizing.

    Second Point:
    I find the distinction between “retribution” and “justice” to be artificial. “Justice” is used in many ways, but it is basically means applying the rules equally. So if the rule is retributive penalty (eye-for-and-eye) then justice would demand one thing, but if the rule is life imprisonment without special privileges, then there is no “demand” by justice for killing a murderer.

    So I think your definition of “justice” is way bigger than the word itself. For it seems to contain the idea that: “And, the rules are obvious that GOD says we should kill murderers.”

    Marshall seems to share your view. But you both are mistaking a particular sort of justice determined by your own presumed rules rather that using the word to mean “equal application of rules without exception”.

    I am not debating about what you feel the rules should be, but simply about the use of “justice” as part of your rhetorical scheme. The rules you want to have are retributive and then justice under those rules demands killing. So for your rule sets, killing a murder is both justice and retributive.

    • Marahall

      I think you’re right, the state makes the offer, and should be concerned with delivering. It is the condemned who is missing out.

      Sabio

      A couple things. What I meant by bread and water is “common fare” i.e., the meal everyone gets. I too worked in law enforcement and have seen what prisoners eat. Second, justice I would say is not “applying the rules equally”, that is equity of justice. Justice is the punishment fitting the crime. As with the perceived revenge of “eye for an eye”. That is not a revenge system, it was a system put in place to prevent over punishment. You couldn’t take a life for taking an eye (in a fight, say). It was in place to make sure the punishment fit the crime, justice.

  5. Fine, we will go with your definition of “justice” as “punishment fitting the crime”. The notion of “fitting” is determined by the rules. But that is the same thing. The point is, the justice depends on the rules.

    So let’s say that “eye for eye” was an improvement over, “You knocked my kid’s eye out and now I am going to take out the eyes of all your kids.” That would be an improvement in morality. But if your kid took out my kid’s eye, we don’t have to agree that therefore we have to take out your kids eye — there can be other arrangements. Morality can keep improving.

    Nonetheless, “Justice” does not demand executing a murderer unless the rules states it. You are assuming your preferred rules and conflating it with “justice” as a rhetoric technique. “Murder demands Justice!” sounds so much better than “Murder demands life imprisonment”.

    • Sabio, this implies that the rules are arbitrarily set wit nothing taken into consideration except our reactive emotions.

      I would say that human life is so valuable that capital punishment is the only fitting punishment.

      I think you might be misunderstanding the application and purpose of the biblical “eye for an eye” parameter.

  6. Please stay focused on the meaning of “Justice”.
    Whether the rules are arbitrarily set, or divinely/absolutely set, or set by natural law. We have to have some rules to determine if “justice” has been met.
    Right? Do you agree?

  7. I agree with this post for the most part too.

    I thought it was wasteful – but then, the order itself was so over the top and beyond what a person could reasonably consume that there was bound to be waste anyway.

    The last meal is a critical difference between how murderers and the state treat those that they will kill. The meals is the signifier of the state’s lack of malice and it’s compassion. Eliminating that brings the state too close to being mindless killers.

  8. Terrance H. says:

    Marshall,

    Nice Argument by Slogan, “Capital punishment is not revenge. It is justice.”

    It’s a completely foolish statement on your part – as was most of your contribution – because justice is relative. I say letting the sucker rot in an 8×8 cell for the remainder of his pathetic existence is true justice; you say kill him.

    Why are you right and I wrong? Because you say so? It doesn’t work that way, I’m afraid, and if you think so, Marshall, then I suggest that is a problem with you. Perhaps you should seek counseling.

    Whether you detected any jubilation is beside the point – and that, I dare say, really is a problem with you – because it’s pretty clear that his entire post is riddled with levity, something I don’t feel appropriate given the severity of the issue. We are, after all, talking about life and death.

    I like John quite a bit, but his failure, I believe, is turning this into an Us versus Them debate, which loses sight entirely of the human element. That is a mistake. A mistake I believe you are making as well. And because you made it, Marshall, I believe, therefore, that is —- a problem with you.

    Peace.

    • To be fair, T, you think you’re right and we’re wrong? What makes that noble? Whay are you right and I’m wrong, because you say so? It doesn’t work that way. You have an us (liberals) vs. them (conservatives) attitude too. I mean really now. We all have opinions, conservatives aren’t evil and heartless just because we think we’re right, and the same goes for liberals.

      Listen, you need to calm down. We now disagree on many issues, but I get the impression that everytime you say something you’re foaming at the mouth. Let’s discuss without the hostility, please.

  9. John,
    Back after a day of work. You didn’t answer my question, so perhaps I should re-phrase it: Do you agree that “Justice” must presume a set of rules (arbitrary or absolute) to make sense.

  10. John

    if thinking you’re right doesn’t result in the evil and heartless, what does?

    (Thank you for the great set up – btw, there was just no way to resist and I really tried.)

    But seriously – the stereotypes come from somewhere – and I am honestly asking now:

    Is it the xenophobia/purity tenancies? It is the pioneer self reliant boot straps mentality?

    is it the religion more directly, so it’s easy to justify behaviours and attitudes that are perceived by the recipients to be heartless when it’s really well intended as tough love?

  11. @Sabio

    I suppose justice requires a set of moral laws, either objective or subjective.

    @Nina

    I’m sorry, I’m just not following your point. It is just a bit vague. My mind is on other things and I am sure your comment makes sense to everyone else reading, but for some reason, I’m just not following your point. If you think it is worth clarifying, please do. But if it was just a passing thought, sorry I didn’t get it the first time. :-(

  12. @ John

    So my point was:

    In your post your said,
    “[A criminal sentence] is justice imposed for crimes committed.”

    And you agree that:
    “Justice requires a set of moral laws.”

    So my simple point is that if our laws demand life imprisonment for murder, then “justice” is served if a murderer is put in prison for life. Justice is not served if they escape the country and life the good life.

    So if someone says, “No, justice for murder is death”, then they are saying that they have different rules than the law-of-the-land that they use to judge justice. I am sure many Muslims feel justice is not done here in America for exactly that reason.

    That is, they have different laws/rules that they use to judge justice.

    And if your rules are against the law of the land, then you say “The Bible says” to justify your rules of Justice. Likewise your will use your interpretation of Christian Scriptures to protest changes in the law that you disagree with.

    All to say, Justice just demands fair application of the rules (whatever they are), it does not demand a particular action. You feel that there should only be one set of rules, and thus it seems to me you sometimes conflate Justice with the rules themselves.

    • I disagree Sabio, with your usage of the term justice. What you are essentially saying is that if tomorrow the law changed to forcing someone to take an all expenses paid vacation to the destination of their choice for murdering someone, as long as that’s what everyone gets, that would be justice. Absolutely not! Justice is not equal application of the law, justice is the punishment fitting the crime. You are talking abou tequity of applying justice. I know it sounds like quibbling over terms, but we are using far different concepts for the same word.

      There have been many unjust laws. Slavery, Dred Scott, segrigation for example. Racial discrimination was legal and equally applied, were slavery laws just laws? No, they weren’t.

      Justice is the punishment fitting the crime, period. Sometimes it does, some times it doesn’t.

  13. Well, I have not desire to debate word definitions but let’s go with your example to perhaps make my point more clear:

    If the LAW said that murder is to be rewarded with a paid vacation, then if the president murdered and got a paid vacation but a janitor murdered and only got a can of sardines, then the janitor did not receive justice.

    That is because, the punishment did not fit the crime. For the rules say that the janitor should get a paid vacation (not just a can or sardines).

    Punishment fitting the crime can only be determined by examining the rules.

    You feel that your holy book IS the only real rules. Thus if society decided agains your holy book’s rules, you would say justice is not being served.

    “Justice” is subjective in the sense I am using it. You want the rules to be absolute and you want *real* justice tied to the rules. That is the sense of “justice” you are using. Thus I claim you are conflating the rules with justice.

    It is fine if you want them tied like that, but I want to point out that you are intimately tieing them together — and by my usage, that would amount to conflating.

    Am I misrepresenting your position?

    • In your janitor example, the janitor did not receive justice — not because the sentence was different, but be cause the punishment didn’t fit. I would say the president did not recieve justice either.. Human life is more valuable than to be rewarded for taking it. the reason I brought up vacations is because you are fixated on equal application regardless of the sentence. So on your view, a 5 year-old who who steals a piece of candy is getting justice if she is fed to hungry lions for her crime, as long as everyone who steals candy is also fed to lions. I would say justice was not done because the punishment was vastly too harch for a small crime.

  14. (1) Concerning the Janitor: Right, because the sentence was different from the law (not because it was different from others).

    (2) Concerning the President: Yes, you are illustrating again how you are conflating these issues. I think you are skirting my presentation and not responding to it.

    • So again, as long as it was illegal for all blacks to drink from “whites only” waterfountains, segregation laws were just? And as long as all runaway slaves were returned to their masters, runaway slave laws were just laws? Gotcha.

  15. People who felt the rules were applied correctly would say they were just. People who feel other rules should be applied would call them unjust.

    It seems you are using “just” to mean “moral”. I have no problem with that. Many people use “justice” in many different ways. But if you are doing that, then I am saying you are are assuming your Biblical rules to determine morality and thus justice. But to act like “Justice” is some how stripped of someone’s set of rules is a rhetorical technique. Maybe you weren’t doing that.

  16. Terrance H. says:

    John,

    Please. I don’t know that I’m right and you’re wrong. I simply deduce – by considering examples of what we all might call “humanity” – that killing someone out of vengeance, or what I call a false sense of justice, is totally wrong. I assume that, but I don’t know it for sure.

    That’s my argument. I don’t think it’s just. Marshall, on the other hand, makes a blanket statement and then criticizes.

    I don’t have an Us versus Them mentality, John. I’m considering the human element. That’s my whole purpose. Believe me, there are some crimes that when I hear about them, I can’t help but utter “[S]omeone should kill that ******.” Sorry about the language, but for impacts sake, it’s necessary.

    Ya know, I feel that anger too when I hear about a little baby being slaughtered, a woman raped and then killed in front of her husband. It pisses me off. But I calm down and remember that I’m more than a mere wild animal and so I shouldn’t behave like one.

    And, trust me, if I were angry, it would be clearly obvious. You wouldn’t have to guess; you’d know. I’m not angry at all. This is just another disagreement.

  17. John,
    Am I correct in thinking that you believe the reason justice demands we kill a murderer is because God demands it?

  18. Terrance H. says:

    John,

    I figure justice should be humane. And from everything I know about humanity, CP is not it.

    • Studies show long term solitary confinement breeds psychological problems. Those convicts who commit crimes worthy of life with no parole (or CP in some states) are in single cells which are barely bigger than a closet for 23 of 24 hrs a day. That is more humane than a painless lethal injection for their crimes? Really?

  19. Terrance H. says:

    Psychological treatment.

    • T

      So we knowingly submit the to psychological distress, treat them and continue the psychological distress. Then pepper spray them and take them to the ground *hard* and cuff them up when they lash out. Oh yeah, real humane.

  20. @ John
    Sure, it is “a reason”. My point is, that there is some the rule that determines justice must be known before “justice” can be understood. There is no a priori truth saying that a murderer needs to be killed. Thus “Justice” demands nothing by itself, you have to lay your rules out on the table. See my 9:02 comment.

    I think we have reached the end of this dialogue. I think you get my point: There are different uses of the word “Justice” — yours presumes particular rules and thus your use made “justice”, “morals” and “the morals I value” to be synonyms.

  21. Terrance H. says:

    John,

    That was just an easy way to respond to a totally ridiculous comment. But let me try this.

    Studies have shown that children born to poor parents are, statistically, far likelier to live in poverty their entire lives. Studies have also shown that people who live in poverty are at an increased risk of developing many diseases, including major depression. So tell me, John, when a poor, young mother wants an abortion, shouldn’t we just let her have it? What is better for the child? Killing him quickly and painlessly at about 12-weeks gestation, or allowing him to grow up and suffer in poverty? What is more humane?

    See how absurd the argument is? Justice aside, it can be used to rationalize many atrocities, including abortion.

    Not every child who is born to poor parents is going to live in poverty and develop some disease because of it. Just like not every death row inmate is going to suffer with a psychological illness.

    These sophmoric arguments are beneath you.

    • Id be happy to work with analogies. But you and I both know children in the womb are as innocent as any human being can be. A death row inmate is as far on the other side of the scale as they can be.

  22. Terrance H. says:

    John,

    I’m simply showing how that particular argument can be twisted into supporting many attrocities.

    Baby Joseph, that little angel from Canada, died today, you know. I remember a few months ago people were saying it would be “humane” to let him die then, so he didn’t have to suffer. That, basically, is part of your argument for why we should have capital punishment.

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