In 1989, Brian Price was sentenced to 15 years in prison for assaulting his ex-wife and kidnapping his brother-in-law. A musician and photographer on the outside, they put him in the kitchen in the Huntsville Walls Unit. One night, he filled in for the four-star chef who'd been doing death row inmates' last meals, but who wanted to quit. Price cooked one dinner as a fill-in, then took over the post entirely. All in all, he made 218 meals.
Today, he talks about the experience in the New York Times' 'Asked and Answered' column, less than a month after he served his last last meal: Texas discontinued the practice on September 21st. He offered to keep cooking the meals for free, but the State of Texas declined his offer. Here's Price, on making that first meal:
And so, the next day sarge called me into his office and said, “Hey Price, that guy they killed last night sent a word of thanks to the chaplain over here and said he appreciated what you did. He really liked it.” That blew me away. I went back to my cell that night, and I really reflected upon it and that was probably the last thanks that guy gave anyone before he left this world.Price says he had to work with whatever they had available--which means no steaks after 1994, and lobster? Not so much.
The Texas Department of Corrections has a policy that no matter what the request, it has to be prepared from items that’s in the prison kitchen commissary. And, like if they requested lobster, they’d get a piece of frozen pollock. Just like they would normally get on a Friday, but what I’d do is wash the breading off, cut it diagonally and dip it in a batter so that it looked something like at Long John Silver’s — something from the free world, something they thought they were getting, but it wasn’t. They quit serving steaks in 1994, so whenever anyone would request a steak, I would do a hamburger steak with brown gravy and grilled onions, you know, stuff like that.As for why there are no more last meals, Price tells the NYT that "It’s politically motivated." Price thinks Texans themselves should decide whether to end the last meals policy: "It’s up to the folks of Texas if they want to stop a tradition, an age-old tradition. One or two men shouldn’t have the stroke of power to do that."
Huntsville Prison. [Photo: Nick DiFonzo/Wikipedia]