June 5th was the 100th anniversary of the death of one of America’s most prolific and celebrated writers: O. Henry’s most famous work was the iconic Christmas story, “Gift of the Magi” (1906).
Not publicly known at the time was the fact that he was William Sidney Porter, and had been convicted for bank embezzlement in 1898 serving three years in prison.
Back then there were only three federal prisons created as the Three Prisons Act of 1891 (Atlanta, Leavenworth and McNeil Island), so Porter served his time as a contract prisoner at the Ohio Penitentiary, Columbus.
While working as a night druggist in the Ohio prison (as he was also a licensed pharmacist that had to be a good job), he wrote and published a number of short stories under the pen name of O. Henry.
The federal Bureau of Prisons was created in 1930. Many in Congress debated that administration of the BOP should be done by the US Department of the Interior, which already managed the Territorial Prisons. It went to the Justice Department, and we’ve been paying for it ever since.