This is a line from O. Henry's A Retrieved Reformation.

The detective Ben Price is confident that Jimmy, now out on parole, has been to crack safes and:

He'll do his bit next time without any short time or clemency foolishness.

What is "clemency foolishness"? Does it mean foolish enough to do offense that is not easily pardoned or anything else?

2 Answers 2


This solves the crux of the problem. Here, Ben Price is confident that Jimmy Valentine could, in a way, dodge the judiciary; he was to serve full term in jail. To show him clemency is just another name of foolishness; now, that mistake must not be repeated. During O. Henry's time (around 1900) 'bit' has the currency to mean legal punishment. In the use of underworld terms, O. Henry is the master craftsman.

In their PDF version of the story, pans.pasd.com at page 239 in the footnote writes explaining the line under reference (He'll do his bit ... foolishness.) : He will serve his full term in prison without anyone shortening the lengh of it or pardoning him. So the words should be viewed from the judge's perspective towards the offender.

  • If you feel yours is the correct answer, you can self-accept, of course. Commented Apr 13, 2020 at 14:35

Without reading the story itself, just from what you have put in the question (detective talking about a criminal on parole who's committing a crime), I'd think that it isn't just "clemency foolishness". The foolishness here is the short prison time (counting parole) and clemency offered to prisoners when they show repentance — which, naturally, won't sit well with the detectives who put in time and effort into building a case only to see a wheedling criminal back on the streets in no time!

Of course, parole violators usually lose any possibility of further parole or pardon of their sentence, so the detective thinks that if Jimmy is out on parole and has committed a crime, he's going back and not coming out again anytime soon.

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