When you’re an artist and a chef like Julia Ziegler-Haynes, inspiration comes from odd places. For example, in her new book titled Today’s Special, she looks at the final meals requested by 24 death row inmates on the eve of their execution.
Fascinated with the subject, Ziegler-Haynes undertook extensive research in order to recreate selected meals, arranging or cooking items exactly to the recorded likings and specifications of each prisoner. As if that wasn’t enough, she then envisioned how each meal would appear served in the prisons, then juxtaposed her versions against vibrant backgrounds to liven what she assumed to be the opposite of their actual presentation.
“Essentially, these prisoners had become guests in my home,” says Ziegler-Haynes. “And so, despite having been immersed in the hideous details of each crime, I repeatedly found myself feeling empathetic towards them. Especially those whose requests were so meager.”
For example, one photograph depicts a single black, unpitted olive, while another is simply a cup of coffee. A brief detailing of each inmateʼs crime and penalty appears toward the end of the book beside a thumbnail of its corresponding image.
As you can see below, the resulting images captured by photographer Ashley Macknica are quasi-portraits of each individual. By purposefully capturing the meals from the vantage point of the diner, the viewer is then prompted to consider the solitude of this poignant moment.
Hastings Arthur Wise (November 4, 2005)
A lobster tail, French fries, coleslaw, banana pudding and milk
Info: Hastings Arthur Wise, 51, was executed by lethal injection on November 4, 2005 in Columbia, South Carolina for the murders of a 27-year-old woman, and three men ages 56, 30 and 31. Wise spent four years on death row.
Peter J. Miniel (October 6, 2004)
Twenty beef tacos, twenty beef enchiladas, two double cheeseburgers, a pizza with jalapeños, fried chicken, spaghetti with salt, a small fruit cake, half of a chocolate cake, half of a vanilla cake, cookies-n-cream ice cream, caramel pecan fudge ice cream, two Coca-Colas, two Pepsi-Colas, two root beers and two orange juices
Info: Peter J. Miniel, 42, was executed by lethal injection on October 6, 2004 in Huntsville, Texas for the murder of a 21-year-old man. Miniel spent 16 years on death row.
Lewis Eugene Gilbert II (July 1, 2003)
A half-gallon of vanilla ice cream, a box of Whoppers and a box of assorted ice cream cones
Info: Lewis Eugene Gilbert II, 31, was executed by lethal injection on June 1, 2003 in McAlester, Oklahoma for the murder of a 37-year-old woman. Gilbert spent seven years on death row.
James Rexford Powell (October 1, 2002)
One pot of coffee
Info: James Rexford Powell, 56, was executed by lethal injection on October 1, 2002 in Huntsville, Texas for the murder of a 10-year-old girl. Powell spent 11 years on death row.
Jackie Lee Willingham (July 24, 2003)
Fettuccine Alfredo, a small deep-dish pepperoni pizza, breadsticks and two Peppermint Patties
Info: Jackie Lee Willingham, 33, was executed by lethal injection on June 24, 2003 in McAlester, Oklahoma for the murder of a 62-year-old woman. Willingham spent eight years on death row.
Robert Anthony Buell (September 24, 2002)
A single black, unpitted olive
Info: Robert Anthony Buell, 62, was executed by lethal injection on September 24, 2002 in Lucasville, Ohio for the murder of an 11-year-old girl. Buell spent eight years on death row.
David Leon Woods (May 4, 2007)
Pizza and birthday cake
Info: David Leon Woods, 42, was executed by lethal injection on May 4, 2007 in Michigan City, Indiana for the murder of a 77-year-old man. Woods spent 22 years on death row.
Today’s Special is available now through the OHWOW Book Club and online for $35.
All images courtesy of Julia Ziegler-Haynes and OHWOW.