A message to a lifer, a future priest, and a freshman congressman.To Eric Benitez, a prisoner in Corcoran State Prison; Jesuit scholastic Justin Mungal; and congressman Juan “Paco” Vargas:Paco, connecting with you in D.C. was very different than those days we connected in Sacramento, working on juvenile justice issues.Eric, I am glad you were able to meet Paco before he was elected to the state senate. We sat in that darkened room at Barry J. Nidorf Juvenile Hall in Sylmar and little did we know what all that would mean in the future.Justin, you just visited Eric in Corcoran State Prison a few days ago with your parents and you had to change clothes because you were wearing jeans, which are not allowed in prisons. Changing of clothes of those with certain lifestyles says everything.“What does all this mean?” I keep asking myself. What, or who, is the connection among the four of us and where we now live and breathe?You Eric, you have changed clothes many times, clothes with many different meanings as a youth on the streets, as a juvenile in prison and now as a young adult.And you too, Justin. It seems it was only yesterday that you were taking your first vows at the Loyola Marymount University chapel. The day before we had been to your sentencing, Eric, when you first received your 200-plus-year sentence and eight days.Now it is three years later. Justin, you are in Chicago; Eric, you are in Corcoran; and you, Paco, in D.C. The common thread that connects the four of us is you, Eric, a lifer. I wonder what you would think of D.C. Would you be intimidated? Would you be impressed by the grandeur of the gray stately stone buildings pretending to be so famous, so untouchable?And you, Justin, attending school with the very best at Chicago University. Like Paco, who attended Harvard University, you are going to influence Eric and others who have never been given not even a first chance in their barrios. Positions of power to serve those who were never given a first chance.Maybe what I feel as I look down on the chasm of the Grand Canyon is how brief our journey on Earth really is compared to the millions of years of chiseling the layers of this immense canyon.I’m staring down below on this smooth jet ride over the Grand Canyon on my way back to California. Flashbacks. Memories.Paco, we saw you at your swearing-in of the 113th Congress. You were standing there in a place of power. What was that feeling like? What were you, Eric and Justin, doing at that moment?Eric, will you be affected by SB9, the bill we all worked so hard to pass? I do not know, but I do know that one day you will be seeing the Grand Canyon with your kids. I just know it. A blessing for your future.Maybe what I feel as I look down on the chasm of the Grand Canyon is how brief our journey on Earth really is compared to the millions of years of chiseling the layers of this immense canyon.We only have this brief moment to exist in this world, and I think how both of you, Justin and Eric, are young and have your dreams, your idealism as wild as running barefooted through the city streets.Justin, you have been blessed to study, to be empowered and use your expertise for change; to create a way to make of this a better world.And you Paco, you voted today for $1.8 billion for Hurricane Sandy relief to help those who lost their homes, to give these families a second chance.Again, I reflect on that common thread that connects us all; that the reason we all know each other is you, Eric, a prisoner. I think of how our lives have to be about something better than ourselves.During those days in D.C., we had Mass at the hotel offered for your Papa, Paco. To honor Tomas, who passed away just a few weeks before this historic moment in your life, we asked each person to think of a gift that he possessed. Your daughter said that you will be as patient as your father, your wife mentioned humility, and others added wisdom and strength.Then we prayed for you, Paco, so you can carry on with these same gifts, the lasting legacy of your padre. Even though you were not in D.C., Eric, you were with us so we may continue to work for a better world. This is what pumps blood through our veins, the ones like you, Eric. The ones who never had even a first chance, but who one day may have an opportunity to be in this world to let the greatness you have within shine like the sun off the massive walls of the Grand Canyon.Father Mike Kennedy is the founder and executive director of the Jesuit Restorative Justice Initiative (www.jrji.org), a nonprofit that works towards restoring justice in society through the spiritual healing of crime victims and offenders, and advocating for more humane criminal justice and prison systems. He leads a team that facilitates retreats in several California state prisons and juvenile halls. He is also the co-chaplain at Barry J. Nidorf Juvenile Hall in Sylmar.