By Sean Chaffin
Many players learn the game of poker in some pretty traditional ways. Some learned to play with from their parents, grandparents, other relatives, or maybe with some friends. A college dorm room has become a common spot not just for hitting the books, but also for card playing. Others have started playing for free online at places like ClubWPT, later moving on to live cash games.
Joe Reddick’s story is much different. His poker lessons came with much more difficult circumstances – behind bars. The New Yorker, now a regular at WPT events and other tournaments around the country, spent 15 years in a federal correctional facility. His road to poker success certainly took some ups and downs, but he’s glad to be in the Day 2 field at the WPT Seminole Rock ‘N’ Roll Poker Open rather than a prison yard.
As many poker players know, bad decisions can have consequences both at the tables and in life in general. Reddick had a tough early life on the streets, and drug dealing came pretty easy in his neighborhood in the Bronx. The money was fast and better than other jobs for young men his age.
The lifestyle caught up with him. Law enforcement was on his tail, and he was eventually arrested in North Carolina after being on the run from federal authorities for a year and a half. There would be no short sentence in county jail, Reddick was sentenced to a lengthy stint.
“I was a kid making poor decisions, and that was the end result – prison,” he says. “I had 20 years and I filed my own appeal, I learned law, and I was released in 2008 and only ended up doing 15.”
After entering prison in 1993, he was released in 2008. Prison time isn’t easy – the boredom, the loss of freedom, the general confinement, and the lack of hope. One thing helped pass the time for this prisoner, however, poker.
Obviously, players didn’t have real money to wager and forget about felt tables. But he and some other prisoners found a way. Candy bars substituted for cash as well as sweat suits, tennis shoes, and cans of tuna.
“I lost about $7,000 worth of Snickers bars,” he told the New York Post in 2016. “That’s how I learned.”
The games put a new twist on the saying “losing your shirt.” After seeing televised poker, he knew it was something he wanted to pursue. After being released in 2008, he got on a bus with $500 in cash and headed straight to the Taj Mahal in Atlantic City. He left with $2,500.
The winning on the felt continued. In 2016, he won the Borgata Winter Poker Open Borgata Million for $217,792. Beyond poker, Reddick also began writing novels while locked up and even starting his own publishing company. The books were written under the pseudonym Joe Black and are inspired by some of his own life and life on the streets.
Only 23 when he entered prison, Reddick is now 50. He doesn’t point to one particular moment in time that helped turn his life around, but says his days of criminality are very much in the past, noting simply: “I got older and wiser.”
After his release and success in poker, Reddick decided to get back into selling – but this time, something more traditional. He designs his own poker clothing, called Chip Bully. The idea came him two years ago and he sells his merchandise online. The Chip Bully offerings run the gamut from hats and jackets to shirts and hoodies, and he was sporting one of his shirts on Sunday.
The brand’s Instagram describes his clothing as: “high-end apparel, for those who hustle and live to stack chips.”
The tagline fits Reddick as he certainly loves to stack chips himself. Social media has been key in getting the word out about Chip Bully.
“It’s just something I slipped into,” he says of the business. “It’s going great, and sales have been great. I started it after I won the Borgata Open in 2016.”
Now splitting his time between New York and Las Vegas, Reddick loves playing tournament poker including WPTs. He especially looks for tournaments with a $500,000 guarantee or more. He has five children and has some pretty big goals when it comes to poker.
“I want to be the first African-American World Series of Poker Main Event winner,” he says. “To be first is always great.”
Reddick busted just before the dinner break on Day 2 but expect to see him back playing again soon and looking good doing it.
Sean Chaffin is a freelance writer in Crandall, Texas. His work appears in numerous websites and publications. Follow him on Twitter @PokerTraditions.
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