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Former death row chef offers to cook free meals for the condemned

By Lateef Mungin, CNN
updated 9:42 AM EDT, Sun October 2, 2011
Brian Price spent a decade as a prison chef, preparing last meals for the condemned.
Brian Price spent a decade as a prison chef, preparing last meals for the condemned.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • A recent large, uneaten death row meal pushed Texas officials to end the last meal tradition
  • "Can we not show our softer side?" asks Brian Price, a former death row chef
  • He spent 14 years in prison for assault
  • He wrote a book about the nearly 200 meals he cooked for the condemned

(CNN) -- A former death row chef says he will pay for and cook every last meal for condemned inmates himself, after Texas announced it was stopping the tradition.

"We should not get rid of the last meal," said Brian Price, an ex-convict who spent a decade in Texas preparing last meals for the condemned. "Justice is going to be served when this person is executed, but can we not show our softer side? Our compassionate side?"

Last week's audacious last meal request by killer Russell Brewer was the last straw for some in Texas.

Brewer was executed September 21 for his role in the infamous racially motivated 1998 dragging death of James Byrd Jr.

His last meal request was for two chicken-fried steaks smothered in gravy with sliced onions, a triple-meat bacon cheeseburger, a cheese omelet with other ingredients, a large bowl of fried okra with ketchup, three fajitas, a pint of Blue Bell ice cream and a pound of barbecue with a half-loaf of white bread.

Just for good measure, Brewer added a slab of peanut butter fudge with crushed peanuts, a pizza and three root beers.

Meet the 'Death Row Chef'

Then he ate none of it. Not a bite.

"Enough is enough," said Texas state Sen. John Whitmire, a day after the execution. "It is extremely inappropriate to give a person sentenced to death such a privilege -- one which the perpetrator did not provide to their victim."

Texas prison officials agreed with Whitmire, immediately halting the tradition of letting an inmate about to be executed choose the menu for his or her last meal.

"Texas has always been coldhearted about these type of things," said Price. "Not to minimize these crimes, the majority of them have earned their place at that dinner table. But with my offer it would not cost Texas taxpayers anything."

Price said he knows all too well the angst some in Texas may feel about baking cakes or grilling steaks for the perpetrators of some of the most heinous crimes in the state.

Price dealt with the same feelings years ago during a 14-year prison term for assault. His job in the facility included cooking meals to fill the sometimes extravagant requests of men who were about to be executed.

"I used to research the crimes and wonder, 'How could I prepare a meal for this guy?'" Price said.

Price had little empathy for the convicts on death row until he had a conversation with Manny Lopez, an inmate who was tasked with cleaning the death chamber after executions.

"Manny told me that cleaning the blood off the gurney did not affect him," Price said. "He said what got to him was washing the handprints, smeared lipstick, tear stains off the windows of the witness room where the man's family was watching him die."

Price said he began to imagine if the people on death row were his family members.

"I would just act like it was my brother who was going to be on that gurney, and then I would cook," Price said.

He wrote about his experiences and the almost 200 meals he prepared in a book titled "Meals to Die For."

Since leaving prison he has opened a restaurant and married. He says he thinks about his conversation with Lopez often and he really wants to keep the tradition of a last meal alive.

But it seems that Texas will not take Price up on his offer.

"While we appreciate Mr. Price's offer, it's not the cost but more the concept that we're moving away from," said Texas Department of Criminal Justice spokesman Jason Clark.

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