Belmont Club

Smoke gets in your eyes

Several sites on the Internet maintain lists of “final meals” requested by prisoners about to die. The last meals of those condemned by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, are in their way as fascinating as the best-selling accounts of the Last Dinner on the Titanic, which in case you are interested, consisted in First Class of a selection from:

Hors D’oeuvre Varies, Oysters, Consomme Olga, Cream of Barley, Salmon, Mousseline Sauce, Cucumber, Filet Mignons Lili, Saute of Chicken, Lyonnaise Vegetable Marrow Farcie, Lamb, Mint Sauce, Roast Duckling, Apple Sauce, Sirloin of Beef, Chateau Potatoes, Green Peas, Creamed Carrots, Boiled Rice, Parmentier & Boiled New Potatoes, Punch Romaine, Roast Squab & Cress, Cold Asparagus Vinaigrette, Pate De Foie Gras, Celery, Waldorf Pudding, Peaches in Chartreuse Jelly, Chocolate & Vanilla Eclairs and French Ice Cream

As might be expected, prisoners condemned to die in Texas had somewhat more pedestrian tastes than the First Class passengers aboard the doomed Titanic. For example, prisoner 99047 had a dozen fried eggs (over easy), 1 loaf of bread, a bowl of salad dressing, french fries, and milk (3 cartons). It was perhaps, an indication of all the things he wanted eat but never got enough of. The fascination of reading about final meals lies perhaps in being able to mentally sit down with someone we have never met, and yet through the act of imagining, empathize with somewhat.  But the menus convey more than just information about the life and times of the inmates. They are also an indicator of culture.  Just as the last dinner on the Titanic gives us a fleeting glance at the Edwardian Age, the last meals of prisoners tell us something about the age of political correctness. The most interesting entries in list of final meals are the ones which contain this message: cigarette refused because of “tobacco prohibited by TDCJ policy”. Texas jails have banned smoking since 1995 on grounds of health, though what benefit the ban may have had for prisoner 99047 is doubtful.

Texas prisons have also been tobacco free since 1995, according to Jason Clark with the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. “The reason for that was it was a health issue and has substantial effects on offenders and employees with the second hand smoke,” he said.

Now the Associated Press is reporting that the Department of Defense, after due consideration, has decided not to prohibit troops from smoking in war zones. “The Pentagon reassured troops Wednesday that it won’t ban tobacco products in war zones. Defense officials hadn’t actually planned to eliminate smoking — at least for now. But fear of a ban arose among some troops after the Defense Department received a study recommending the military move toward becoming tobacco-free — perhaps in about 20 years.”

Damien Lewis, in his account of British Apache helicopter pilots in Afghanistan relates how some crewmen returned from surviving a storm of anti-aircraft fire thrown up by the Taliban only to be refused a bacon sandwich on grounds that it was bad for their health. One attack pilot described how the MPs would dutifully check to see that he was properly belted into the jeep which took him to the flight line because of health and safety regulations, oblivious to the fact that within minutes, said individual would be subjected to every form of shot and shell that the enemy could muster.

Some things simply go out of style. It’s hard to imagine now that soldiers in World War 2 might ask for a cigarette as they lay wounded at an aid station. But it was true. Only forty years ago you might find cigarettes, matches, lighters and knives in an ordinary man’s pocket. People smoked in front of children, the very same who might climb trees the next minute and sit on rooftops. And in 2009 condemned men walk the last mile without a cigarette because it be bad for their health. Human culture is funny in that it doesn’t have to make sense; it just has to be that way.

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