• Thu. Jan 28th, 2021

The last meals of US prisoners on death row

To prompt a deeper understanding of the death-penalty system in the US, photographer Jackie Black recreated the last meals requested by prisoners on death row before they were executed.

image copyrightJackie Black
image captionLast meal requested by Clydell Coleman, executed 5 May 1999

“What is it like to request a last meal before you are executed for a crime that you may or may not have committed?” asks the American photographer in an art statement on the project.

“If we can place ourselves in front of that meal, perhaps we can feel the experience.

“Maybe we can question our own motives and complicity with the justice system.

“Perhaps we can empathise with the condemned person.”

Black also gathered background information on the prisoners, including how long they had been in education, their occupation and their last statement.

David Wayne Stoker

image copyrightJackie Black

Executed: 16 June 1997

Education: Eight years

Occupation: Heavy-equipment operator/carpenter

Last statement: “I am truly sorry for your loss… but I didn’t kill anyone.”

Anthony Ray Westley

image copyrightJackie Black

Executed: 13 May 1997

Education: Eight years

Occupation: Labourer

Last statement: “I want you to know that I did not kill anyone. I love you all.”

Thomas Andy Barefoot

image copyrightJackie Black

Executed: 30 October 1984

Education: Not listed

Occupation: Oilfield roughneck

Last statement: “I hope that one day we can look back on the evil that we’re doing right now like the witches we burned at the stake. I want everybody to know that I hold nothing against them. I forgive them all. I hope everybody I’ve done anything to will forgive me.

“I’ve been praying all day for [the victim’s] wife to drive the bitterness from her heart because that bitterness that’s in her heart will send her to hell just as surely as any other sin. I’m sorry for everything I’ve ever done to anybody. I hope they’ll forgive me.”

James Russell

image copyrightJackie Black

Executed: 19 September 1991

Education: 10 years

Occupation: Musician

Last statement: Reported to have lasted three minutes, it was either not transcribed or not recorded.

Jeffrey Allen Barney

image copyrightJackie Black

Executed: 16 April 1986

Education: Not listed

Occupation: Not listed

Last statement: “I am sorry for what I’ve done. I deserve this. Jesus forgive me.”

Johnny Frank Garrett

image copyrightJackie Black

Executed: 11 February 1992

Education: Seven years

Occupation: Labourer

Last statement: “I’d like to thank my family for loving me and taking care of me. And the rest of the world can kiss my ass.”

William Prince Davis

image copyrightJackie Black

Executed: 14 September 1999

Education: Seven years

Occupation: Roofer

Last statement: “I would like to say to the family how truly sorry I am in my soul and in my heart of hearts for the pain and misery that I have caused from my actions… I would like to thank all of the men on death row who have showed me love throughout the years.

“I hope that by donating my body to science that some parts of it can be used to help someone… That is all I have to say, warden. Oh, I would like to say, in closing, what about those Cowboys?”

Gerald Lee Mitchell

image copyrightJackie Black

Executed: 22 October 2001

Education: 10 years

Occupation: Carpenter

Last statement: “I am sorry for the pain. I am sorry for the life I took from you. I ask God for forgiveness. And I ask you for the same. I know it may be hard. But I’m sorry for what I did.

“To my family, I love each and every one of you. Be strong. Know my love is always with you, always. I know I am going home to be with the Lord. Shed tears of happiness for me.”

Robert Anthony Madden

image copyrightJackie Black

Executed: 28 May 1997

Education: 12 years

Occupation: Cook

Last statement: “I apologise for your loss and your pain. But I didn’t kill those people. Hopefully, we will all learn something about ourselves and each other. And we will learn to stop the cycle of hate and vengeance and come to value what is really going on in this world.

“I forgive everyone for this process, which seems to be wrong.”

James Beathard

image copyrightJackie Black

Executed: 9 December 1999

Education: 15 years

Occupation: Motorcycle mechanic

After his trial, the prosecution’s key witness recanted his testimony and three members of the parole board recommended clemency.

Last statement: “I want to start out by acknowledging the love that I’ve had in my family. No man in this world has had a better family than me. I had the best parents in the world. I’ve had the most wonderful life any man could have ever had. I’ve never been more proud of anyone than I have of my daughter and son.

“[There are a] couple of matters I want to talk about since this is one of the few times people will listen to what I have to say. The United States has gotten [to a place] now where [there is] zero respect for human life. My death is just a symptom of a bigger illness. At some point, the government has got to wake up and stop doing things to destroy other countries and killing innocent children. The ongoing embargo and sanctions against places like Iran and Iraq, Cuba and other places – they are not doing anything to change the world and they are hurting innocent children.

“Perhaps more important in a lot of ways is what we are doing to the environment is even more devastating because as long as we keep going the direction we’re going the end result is it won’t matter how we treat other people because everybody on the planet will be on their way out.

“One of the few ways in the world the truth is ever going to get out, or people are ever going to know what’s happening, [is] as long as we support a free press out there. I see the press struggling to stay existent as a free institution.”

Last Meals is at the Parrish Art Museum, in New York, until 31 January 2021.

All photographs subject to copyright.