Jimmy Valentine's reformation is retrieved three times.
When Jimmy Valentine receives his pardon from the governor of the state after serving only ten months of a four-year sentence, the warden urges Jimmy to reform:
"Brace up, and make a man of yourself. You're not a bad man at heart. Stop cracking safes, and live straight."
Jimmy contradicts the warden, "Why, I never cracked a safe in my life." The next day as Jimmy is released, he is handed a railroad ticket and a five-dollar bill with the expectation of the law "to rehabilitate himself in good citizenship and prosperity."
But, Jimmy quickly returns by rail to the town and the room in which he was arrested by the eminent detective, Ben Price. There behind a panel in the wall, Jimmy retrieves only his fine set of burglar's tools, and his first reformation is canceled within a week with a safe-burglary in Richmond, Indiana. Other burglaries follow this one, and Jimmy has "resumed business," as Ben Price notes.
However, one afternoon Jimmy arrives in the small town of Elmore, Arkansas, and there Jimmy sees a lovely young lady as she crosses before him and enters the Elmore bank; he falls in love. Jimmy dallies in the street, asking a boy questions about the town. Then, when the young lady walks out of the bank, Jimmy learns that she is Annabel Adams, daughter of the owner of the bank.
Jimmy Valentine's second reformation has begun. He registers at the Planters' Hotel as Ralph D. Spencer. Then, Jimmy talks with the clerk, telling him he is looking for a location for his shoe business. After this, he decides to look over the town.
Mr. Ralph Spencer, the phoenix that arose from Jimmy Valentine's ashes--ashes left by the flame of a sudden and alternative attack of love--remained in Elmore and prospered. He opened a shoe-store and secured a good run of trade.
After a year goes by, Ralph is a respected member of the community; he is engaged to Annabel Adams, and he is well-received into the Adams family. Finally, Jimmy decides to take his safe-cracking tools to a friend in Little Rock, writing his "old pal" that he has "quit the old business" and will not do another "crooked thing for the whole world."
Certainly, Jimmy's reformation seems complete as he carries the suitcase full of tools toward the train station. However, he is delayed by the Adams family that heads downtown to the bank and Ralph is swept away with the rest. Unfortunately, nine-year-old May shuts Agatha into the vault, closing it as she has seen her grandfather do. It is in the following moments of crisis that Jimmy's second reformation is lost. For, his lovely fiancée begs him to do something to save Agatha.
With an odd look in his eyes and a meek smile, Ralph looks at Annabel and asks her for the rose she wears on her dress. As he stuffs it into his pocket, "Ralph D. Spencer passed away and Jimmy Valentine took his place." His reformation is ended as Jimmy breaks into the safe and Agatha is saved. With calm resignation, Jimmy takes his coat which he has removed while working and puts it on; as he walks outside, he hears a voice calling "Ralph." But, waiting by the bank door is Ben Price.
"Hello, Ben!....Got around at last have you? Well, let's go. I don't know that it makes much difference, now."
And then Ben Price acted rather strangely.
"Guess you're mistaken, Mr. Spencer," he said. "Don't believe I recognize you....
As Ben Price turns and walks away, Jimmy Valentine retrieves his reformation a third time.