On Saturday, Sept. 22, NYU lost one of its newest Prison Education Program members, Bruce Mobley, when he collapsed on the gym floor of the Wallkill Correctional Facility while playing basketball — shortly before a visit from his family. At approximately 9 a.m., “Mo stopped to catch his breath,” according to a witness who was playing ball with him. “When he tried to continue, he just collapsed.”
News of the tragedy spread quickly throughout the facility, as people struggled to separate truth from rumor — “somebody had a stroke,” “somebody had a heart attack,” “somebody had a seizure.” For most of the day, few of us knew who that somebody was. After the 11 a.m. count, I asked one of the officers what was going on. He told me what had happened, and to whom.
“It really don’t look good man,” the correction officer said. “They worked on him for a half an hour and he didn’t respond, man. I think he’s gone.”
I lost my breath for a moment. “Not Mo,” I thought. He was only 26.
By the end of the night, there was no mistake — we had lost a compatriot, a fellow student and a friend. It was shortly after the 10 p.m. count when one of the unit porters asked for everyone’s attention. Men filed into the hall as if for a military roll call.
“By now you have all heard the rumors,” the CO said. “Although we don’t know exactly what happened, we do know that Mo has passed on. Can we please have a moment of silence for our fallen comrade?”
We all bowed our heads in remembrance of Mo. After about a minute, the porter said, “Now if there is anyone who would like to say a few words of kindness to honor Mo, please speak up.”
One Latino gentleman in his 50s spoke first.
“Listen everybody,” he said in broken English, his voice hoarse but strong. “I don’t know this man. But he is a very, very good man. I don’t know his name, but every morning I brush my teeth, he say to me, ‘Good morning.’ He is a good man. I don’t know him, but I will miss him.”
Others followed, and one after another the compliments and memories poured out: “He taught me how to play chess.” “He gave me a shirt. ” “He gave me something to eat.” “We cooked together.” “We were making plans to link up in the town and have our nieces and nephews hang out together.” He lived as piously as anyone in prison could.
Mo was one of my cooking partners, part of a group of five who ate and played chess together. We all considered him a good friend. But after the display of honor and remembrance, we realized that Mo had a way of making everyone feel a part of his life, a natural generosity of spirit. Everyone that Mo came in contact with at Wallkill — and even those who didn’t — felt this loss.
His death also reminded a lot of people of their own mortality. This was Mo’s first prison sentence. There are people here on their second, third, fourth and even seventh term, and it could have been anyone of us that transitioned that day. Instead, it was Bruce Mobley, age 26.
Even though the NYU and Wallkill communities are still grieving, none of us can feel the loss that his family felt that day. Adding to the tragedy, Mo’s aunt and uncle were here on the day he passed, according to prison sources. They watched the ambulance leave the facility without realizing it was their nephew being taken away.
We all hope these fond thoughts of him can soften his family’s loss, if only slightly, by letting them know how much he meant to us.
My dearest memories of Mo involved our shared status as comic book geeks and our in-depth discussions of Thor, Powergirl, Harley Quinn and the whole DC and Marvel multiverses. He’ll always be a superhero in my eyes. Rest in peace, Mo. You will live on through the lives of those you have blessed with your kindness.
This story has been approved for publication by an official with Wallkill Correctional Facility.
A version of this article appeared in the Monday, Oct. 15 print edition. Gregory Headley is a student in NYU’s Prison Education Program. Email him at [email protected]