Artist Protests Death Penalty By Painting Prisoners' Final Meals

  • Indiana, March 14, 2001: German ravioli and chicken dumplings prepared by his mother and prison dietary staff.
    Hide caption
    Indiana, March 14, 2001: German ravioli and chicken dumplings prepared by his mother and prison dietary staff.
    Brian Forrest/Julie Green
  • Louisiana, Jan. 7, 2010: Fried sac-a-lait fish, topped with crawfish etouffee, a peanut butter and apple jelly sandwich and chocolate chip cookies.
    Hide caption
    Louisiana, Jan. 7, 2010: Fried sac-a-lait fish, topped with crawfish etouffee, a peanut butter and apple jelly sandwich and chocolate chip cookies.
    Brian Forrest/Julie Green
  • Mississippi, July 23, 1947: Fried chicken and watermelon served to a 15-year-old and 16-year-old boy.
    Hide caption
    Mississippi, July 23, 1947: Fried chicken and watermelon served to a 15-year-old and 16-year-old boy.
    Brian Forrest/Julie Green
  • The Last Supper, installation detail, 2009. Mineral paint on 357 kiln-fired ceramic plates, approximately 12' x 26' installed; Luckman Gallery, California State University, Los Angeles
    Hide caption
    The Last Supper, installation detail, 2009. Mineral paint on 357 kiln-fired ceramic plates, approximately 12' x 26' installed; Luckman Gallery, California State University, Los Angeles
    Brian Forrest/Julie Green
  • Texas, June 15, 2010: Four eggs, four chicken drumsticks, salsa, four jalapeno peppers, lettuce, tortillas, hash browns, garlic bread, two pork chops, white and yellow grated cheese, sliced onions and tomatoes, a pitcher of milk and a vanilla shake.
    Hide caption
    Texas, June 15, 2010: Four eggs, four chicken drumsticks, salsa, four jalapeno peppers, lettuce, tortillas, hash browns, garlic bread, two pork chops, white and yellow grated cheese, sliced onions and tomatoes, a pitcher of milk and a vanilla shake.
    Brian Forrest/Julie Green
  • Montana, Feb. 16, 1917: One apple.
    Hide caption
    Montana, Feb. 16, 1917: One apple.
    Brian Forrest/Julie Green
  • Texas, March 30, 2010: None.
    Hide caption
    Texas, March 30, 2010: None.
    Brian Forrest/Julie Green

1 of 7

View slideshow i

Chefs (and the rest of us) often fantasize about what to pick for our last meal on Earth. But the answers we come up with are often extravagant and largely theoretical.

Well, what if your request was capped at $20, and ingredients were limited to those available in a prison's humble pantry? That's the "choice" presented to most of the 3,000-plus prisoners currently on death row in the United States. Except in Texas, which leads the nation in executions. The Longhorn State (which never allowed steak, only hamburger) abolished special final meals in September after an inmate declined to eat what was considered too grandiose a request.

Artist Julie Green stumbled upon these morbid menus in her morning paper when she lived in Oklahoma, which has the country's highest per-capita execution rate. Over her tea and toast one day, Green read of a final request for "three fried chicken thighs, 10 or 15 shrimp, tater tots with ketchup, two slices of pecan pie, strawberry ice cream, honey and biscuits and a Coke." The simple plea for a final moment of comfort through food prompted her to take action.

More than a decade later, Green has painted 519 of these meals on blue-on-white porcelain plates in her award-winning chef-d'oeuvre, The Last Supper. Check out our slideshow above for a sampling, including an Indiana request for "chicken and dumplings and German ravioli, prepared by my mother and dietary staff." Another asks for pizza with a birthday cake, because the inmate had never had one. A South Carolina prisoner wanted a bottle of Dom Perignon but didn't receive it. (Alcohol is prohibited in all 33 states with the death penalty.)

With the ongoing debate over capital punishment, Green finds her work in the national spotlight. Whole Foods recently produced a documentary on The Last Supper for its new online publication, Dark Rye. At exhibits, Green is often asked what she'd request for her own last supper. But she declines to give an answer. "It's not about me," she says. Green says she'll keep painting until capital punishment is abolished — unless she burns out first.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and Terms of Use. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

Support comes from: