"A Retrieved Reformation" exemplifies O. Henry's credo that there is poetic justice in the world, a world that he romanticizes with characters who are inherently good despite their pasts.
Jimmy Valentine, a safe cracker is given a pardon by the governor of the state and released from prison. Before he ventures forth into society, the warden gives Jimmy a cigar and tells him,"Stop cracking safes, and live a straight life." However, once released, Jimmy immediately returns to his nefarious activities; that is, until he falls in love with Annabel Adams, whose father owns the bank in the little town of Elmore, Arkansas. For, love effects a rehabilitation of Jimmy that no amount of time in prison ever could. He decides to give his "tools" to a friend, telling him,
I've quit the old business-a year ago. I've got a nice store. I'm making an honest living, and I'm going to marry the finest girl on earth two weeks from now....
However, in a twist of fate, Ben Price, a law enforcement officer who has followed Valentine's career and methods of burglaries, notices the unique pattern of Valentine on these burglaries. Consequently, he travels to Elmore because he learns that the bank is putting in a new safe. Waiting in the bank for Jimmy Valentine, Ben Price witnesses a phenomenal incident: the former safe-cracker, after looking at his fiancee poignantly, opens the new vault and saves a child from suffocation.
Because of his heroics, Jimmy Valentine, alias Ralph D. Spencer, receives poetic justice and has a "retrieved reformation." For, Ben Price feigns lack of recognition of the ex-convict and lets him pass into his new, reformed life.