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Just Listen Podcast: "A Retrieved Reformation" by O. Henry

Just Listen Podcast: "A Retrieved Reformation" by O. Henry

We welcome again our friend O. Henry, master short story author, poet and newsman. Today’s story, “A Retrieved Reformation” is one of the stories O. Henry, otherwise known as William Sydney Porter, wrote following his imprisonment, where he met many characters, like our safecracker Jimmy Valentine, and shaped his stories with curious, fascinating protagonists.

In 1891, Porter began working at the First National Bank of Austin as a teller and bookkeeper. The bank was operated informally, and Porter was apparently careless in keeping his books and may have embezzled funds. In 1894, he was accused by the bank of embezzlement and lost his job but was not indicted at the time. Porter and his family moved to Houston in 1895, where he started writing for the Post. While he was in Houston, federal auditors audited the First National Bank of Austin and found the embezzlement shortages that led to his firing. A federal indictment followed, and he was arrested on charges of embezzlement.

After escaping for a while to Honduras, he returned to the United States. Porter had little to say in his own defense at his trial and was convicted of embezzling $854.08. He was sentenced to five years at the Ohio Penitentiary in Columbus, Ohio. Porter was a licensed pharmacist and was able to work in the prison hospital as the night druggist. He was given his own room in the hospital wing, and there is no record that he actually spent time in the cell block of the prison.

He had 14 stories published under various pseudonyms while he was in prison but was becoming best known as "O. Henry,” a pseudonym that first appeared in the December 1899 issue of McClure's Magazine. A friend of his in New Orleans would forward his stories to publishers so that they had no idea that the writer was imprisoned.

Porter's legacy includes the O. Henry Award, an annual prize awarded to outstanding short stories--and a reputation for witty, surprise endings, a twist in the tale that leaves the reader gasping or laughing.

And now, “A Retrieved Reformation” by O. Henry…we begin…