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Image by United Nations COVID-19 Response via Unsplash

Many people today would agree that COVID-19 does not discriminate against rich, poor, White, Black, famous or reclusive, young or elderly. The fact that this virus has affected all of our lives in some way or another has inspired me to ask myself questions like: Is this virus truly a foreign disease? Are there any parallels to the effects that the virus is having on people in today’s society? If so, could this be a reflection of what we’ve become as a nation? Are we COVID-19?

I’ve come to the conclusion that this virus must represent more than sickness and death. If we look at the virus from a relational point of view, it becomes clear that COVID-19 is a manifestation of how we act, think, and feel toward one another as a nation. 

Regarding social distancing: I believe we Americans have become intensely lackadaisical in how technology has replaced and degraded our natural ability to relate to each other, a skill that lays the foundation for empathy. 

The systemic racism of the Industrial Revolution, combined with the multitudes of men this nation has sent to wars and packed into prisons, has contributed to the now-common emotionally distant household, which breeds emotionally unstable children. From the entertainment industry to the corporate world, we as a nation continue to perpetuate an emotionally distant society by honoring the rich, even when they’re wrong, while ostracizing those in poverty as if they are already condemned. Isn’t this the condition of our nation today? Social and economic “dis-ease.”

On masks: Facial expressions reveal many details about a person’s attitude or emotional state. When we place a mask over our adored faces, can people still see who we are based on our conduct? Do we show more than we prove? 

In my former lifestyle, I recall defining my masculinity by my athletic ability, economic status, and sexual victory. I was living out of my wounds, continuously fed a machismo personality that hid behind competition and comparison. If only as a nation we would engage our past wounds and belief systems to starve all of the facades we have manufactured through the decades. 

Could the lockdowns and shutdown of schools be a sign of negligence by parents? Maybe, according to the children who only know their parents as providers, but have yet to receive their due affection from them. I believe education should start at home, where order, empathy, and humility should be promoted. 

This virus has also exposed the dry and desolate bridge between the young and old. Thousands of our elderly have succumbed to COVID-19. I can’t help but notice how most young Americans have despised the wisdom of those who have experienced life’s mutability through its joys and woes. Surely the vision of this generation would be carried out with a balance of passion and integrity, if only the youth of our nation would heed wisdom’s cry to the aimless. 

Now is the time to open the annals of this country’s true history and discover how we have become a nation that consumes more than it produces; discover how our law enforcement has become more concerned with their badges than what “kind” of officers they are. Isn’t this what millions are “crying out” in the streets today?

I ask again, “Are you COVID-19?” It continues to shock me how something that represents death has unapologetically exposed that which does not represent life.

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

Trent Woodmore Jr. is a writer incarcerated in California. He is a member of San Quentin’s Youth Diversionary Program, San Quentin Utilization of Inmate Resources, Experiences and Studies (SQUIRES).