Why Was Author O. Henry Imprisoned and How Did Writer O. Henry End Up In Jail?

Like many writers, the short story author O. Henry wasn’t very good with money.

That was a problem, because before he began writing stories, William Sidney Porter (O. Henry’s real name) was a bank teller by occupation.

In 1894, some of the money that passed through his hands turned up missing.

He lost his job, but at first it looked like the whole thing might blowover. However two years later he was indicted on four counts of embezzlement.

Porter fled to Honduras, but his wife was too sick with tuberculosis to join him.

Six months later, he got word that his wife was dying, so he returned to the United States to be with her and face trial. She died; he was convicted and sentenced to five years in jail.

It was sad for him, but a great day for American literature.

From his jail cell, Porter began writing short stories and a New York daily paper eagerly published them.

Porter had taken the pen name O. Henry, fearing that as he got progressively more famous somebody would dredge up his past and publicly humiliate him.

While it didn’t help support his proclaimed innocence that he had fled the country, his defenders depicted him as being basically honest, just not very good with money.

There is some support for that claim. Read the first three lines of his most famous story, The Gift of the Magi, in which he describes an impossible set of change:

“One dollar and eighty-seven cents. That was all. And 60 cents of it was in pennies.”

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