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Last Repast

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Back when he was a teenager tossing pizzas in his San Antonio hometown, Brian Price never dreamt of what he’d be doing today—or where he’d be doing it. For nearly nine years at the maximum-security prison in Huntsville, Texas, where condemned inmates eat their final meal, Price, 49, has lovingly prepared nearly 180 such last suppers—more than anyone else in Texas, which leads the U.S. in executions. “No matter how heinous the crime, I still feel their last meal should be presented with care and dignity,” says Price, now in the 12th year of a 15-year sentence for sexual assault. “There’s little enough dignity in here as it is.”

Price had already been working in the prison kitchen when he volunteered for the position—a job most inmates rejected. “It kinda spooked them,” says Price who, when he began, had nightmares about being put to death himself. Since then the twice-divorced father of a 28-year-old daughter has had to use plenty of culinary creativity. Because Price must make do with supplies on hand, an inmate who wants steak, say, gets Salisbury. Those who ask for McDonald’s—a cheeseburger with fries is the most often requested meal—receive gussied-up ground beef. “I always put my heart into it,” says Price. “And I say a prayer for the man about to die.”

During his years on the job, Price has come up with a cookbook’s worth of recipes he hopes to publish including his signature dish—Old Sparky’s Genuine Convict Chili. He also hopes to be released after a parole hearing this spring, although his mother, Floy Price, 79, jokes, “We’re beginning to think they don’t want to see him go.” Has he thought about his first meal on the outside? “Fried shrimp with tartar sauce,” he declares. “As much as I can eat!”