HOUSTON — A former Texas inmate who cooked the final meals for hundreds of condemned prisoners is offering to start doing it again at no cost to the state now that officials have ended the practice of allowing the special last requests.
Brian Price, who wrote a cookbook called "Meals to Die For," about his former duties and now runs a restaurant on Houston County Lake in East Texas, said Monday the move by prison officials was "cold-hearted." If it's tax dollars people are worried about, he said, he'll make a last meal for free for any condemned inmate in Texas.
"I am offering to prepare, and or pay for, all of the last meal requests from this day forward," he said. "Taxpayers will be out nothing."
Officials who oversee the country's busiest death chamber stopped the practice of giving special final meals last week after a prominent state senator complained about an extensive request from a man being executed for his role in a notorious hate-crime dragging death. The prison agency quickly said condemned prisoners will now get the same dinner that other inmates eat that day.
Department of Criminal Justice spokeswoman Michelle Lyons called Price's proposal "a kind offer."
"It's not the cost but rather the concept we're moving away from," she said.
The meal flap erupted after Lawrence Russell Brewer was executed for the hate crime slaying of James Byrd Jr. in Jasper more than a decade ago. Brewer, a white supremacist gang member, was convicted of chaining Byrd, 49, to the back of a pickup truck and dragging him to his death along a bumpy road in a case shocked the nation for its brutality.
For his final meal, Brewer asked for 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. Prison officials said Brewer didn't eat any of it.
The request raised the ire of Sen. John Whitmire, who is chairman of the Texas Senate's criminal justice committee. He called the tradition of offering a special last meal ridiculous and illogical.
Since Texas resumed carrying out executions in 1982, the state correction agency's practice has been to fill a condemned inmate's request as long as the items, or food similar to what was requested, were readily available from the prison kitchen supplies.
The exact request almost never was filled, Price said Monday. He noted that when one condemned inmate asked for two T-bone steaks, the prisoner got a hamburger steak instead.
Price made 220 final meals, beginning in 1991 and until his parole in 2003, while serving 14 years in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice Huntsville Unit for a pair of convictions related to the abduction of his brother-in-law and a sexual assault on an ex-wife.
He already was working as a prison cook, and volunteered to make a final meal after other cooks indicated they were squeamish about the task. The condemned inmate complimented his work and the duties stuck.