The last meal of a condemned prisoner is a tradition that dates back to ancient times. It’s a final gesture of mercy, a way of honoring the dignity of the human being before they face their ultimate fate. But what happens when the last meal request is something that the prison authorities can’t or won’t provide?
That was the case for James Edward Smith, a former tarot-card dealer and taxi driver who was sentenced to death for killing a man during a robbery in Houston, Texas, in 1983. Smith had a peculiar request for his last meal: he wanted a lump of rhaeakunda dirt, a type of soil used in voodoo rituals to mark the body for reincarnation. Smith believed that by ingesting the dirt, he would ensure that his spirit would not become a ghost, but rather move on to a new life.
Smith’s request was based on his belief in voodoo, a religion that originated in West Africa and was brought to the Americas by enslaved people. Voodoo practitioners believe in a supreme creator, called Bondye, and a host of spirits, called loa, who influence various aspects of life. Voodoo also involves rituals, such as offerings, sacrifices, and ceremonies, to communicate with the loa and seek their guidance and protection.
One of the rituals that Smith wanted to perform was to mark his body with rhaeakunda dirt, a type of clay that is rich in iron and has a reddish hue. According to voodoo tradition, the dirt is used to mark the body of a person who is about to die, so that the spirit can recognize the body and leave it peacefully. The dirt is also believed to protect the body from evil spirits and prevent it from becoming a zombie, a soulless corpse that can be controlled by a sorcerer.
However, Smith’s request was denied by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, which said that dirt was not on the list of approved foods for inmates. Instead, Smith was given yogurt as his last meal on June 25, 1990, the day of his execution. Smith refused to eat the yogurt and was put to death by lethal injection.
Smith’s story is one of the many examples of the diverse and sometimes bizarre last meal requests made by inmates on death row. Some of these requests reflect the inmates’ personal preferences, such as favorite foods or childhood memories. Others are symbolic, such as religious items or messages. And some are simply unusual, such as Smith’s request for dirt.
These last meal requests offer a glimpse into the minds and hearts of those who are facing their final moments. They reveal the varied beliefs and customs that exist even in the darkest corners of our society. They also show the human capacity for hope and faith, even in the face of death. Whether it’s a simple meal of comfort food or a request as unique as a lump of dirt for a voodoo ritual, these last meal requests serve as a final statement, a last grasp at individuality in a system designed to strip that away.