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The world in 2020 moved so fast, I never thought much about what it would be like to be in other peoples’ shoes. Then COVID-19 slowed the world down and forced me to look, it stripped bare all distractions and I saw you — all of you on the outside, living through COVID-19 just like us. From inside prison, we saw the bodies being buried in New York in unmarked graves on an island, dumped by tractors. And we were shocked.

Then we saw George Floyd and we didn’t want to believe that this was happening in our America. It had been four years since Eric Garner couldn’t breathe and was killed on video, but what made this different?

There was no scuffle in this killing, just Officer Chauvin’s stare. We’ve all seen it. A stare of entitlement, indifference, and confidence, from years of putting his knee on other peoples’ necks. It was confidence he learned in his training, and from the acceptance by his peers and much of society.

I watched from my cell, sad and sick with COVID-19, as you marched in the streets—and I marched with you, imagining what it would be like to be in your shoes. I saw you tear down statues, and the third grader in me felt validated. I had always questioned why we celebrated Columbus for his atrocities.

When I saw the video of cop cars burning in cities throughout the country, with thousands of people cheering, I wondered why all those people were smiling. The smiles seemed like proof of deeper wounds inflicted on us and our communities, by the people who were supposed to protect us.

There is a problem. Until the life of the suspected law breaker has value and we put ourselves in his shoes, we will always justify injustice.

From my cell I also watched parents on TV step into teachers’ shoes and gain a newfound respect for how hard it truly is to be a good teacher. We’ve seen teachers lose their lives to the virus along with essential workers and healthcare workers. All of these people risked their lives and lost their lives just to do their jobs.

In our isolation we are forced to look at people and wonder about their humanity. Some seem to be immune to humanity, like the Officer Chauvins of the world. But they should not be immune, and they too can change if they want to, and commit to doing the work. Humanity is making choices about how to do this thing called life, and it has a learning curve. Some people are raised in the hood, some are raised racist, some privileged or indifferent, but we are all products of our experiences.

Sometimes we need a compass to guide us. That compass can be a question: “Would you like that to happen to you?” If the answer is no, that it’s hurtful and wrong, then you should not do it to others.

COVID-19 forced me to wear your shoes because I had time to imagine, to see you and wonder: what if that were me? Or my kid? Or my mom or dad?

We can’t un-walk in other peoples’ shoes or unsee what we saw. But we should let this be the catalyst to help us and inspire us to create a better world — even long after COVID-19 is gone.

Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. Global Forum Online has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned.

Jessie Milo is a writer, artist and poet incarcerated in California. He is a volunteer for and an advocate for mental health.