The news was heartbreaking. It wasn’t the first time that I heard it, nor the second, nor the third, and yet it didn’t matter. Daniela (not her real name) was an old friend, a very old friend, and it pained me to hear that once again she was in trouble.

I remember Daniela from our youth and recall her brilliance, her wit and her potential. I also remember the challenges and the traumas that she lived with. Daniela did not have an easy life.

Her parents emailed me, asking me if I could doI felt helpless and unsure something. Maybe reach out to her? Write her a letter? I could try. I would try, but I, too, felt helpless and unsure of what to say or do.

“What was it this time?” I asked. “Why was she sent back into jail?”

Her father told me she got caught stealing a $10 item from a store. “How could she be so stupid?” he said. “She’ll never learn, never change.”

I know that his remark was coming from a place of pain, though it shocked me nonetheless. A person doesn’t get into trouble, time and time again, because they are stupid. Daniela was a person in pain. Stealing a $10 item when you had a long record was in a way like saying, “Life is more painful being free than as a prisoner in jail.”

It’s been so many years that I think Daniela herself feels that this is simply her fate—that this is who she is and that she’ll never change.

It’s a tragic and hopeless reality that actually isn’t reality at all. Many of us have that same belief to some extent. We imagine that it is safer to be imprisoned in pain than to go through the work and necessary exertion for the freedom of change. Or, we think that it’s impossible to break free—from our bad habits or from the pain, trauma and mistakes of our lives. But it’s not true. There is a way out. It just might not be through the front door.

Let me explain ...

A parable from our sages tells that a band of robbers was caught and thrown into the king’s dungeon. The prisoners dug a tunnel and fled. One of them, however, chose to stay behind. The guard arrived, noticed the tunnel, and then saw the sole prisoner still sitting in the cell. He yelled at him: “Fool! You had a chance to run and you didn’t?”

Our sages teach us that sin traps us, but there is an escape tunnel. When you are in such a low place—a place where it seems impossible to be let out, a place where it seems like change is insurmountable—you must always know that G‑d created a means of escape.

The escape tunnel is teshuvah. What is teshuvah? It’s commonly translated as repentance, but it literally means “to return.” Return to what? Return to G‑d, return to your G‑dliness and your goodness. Return to the potential of who you really are and the greatness of who you can become.

You see, if we just live our life according to inertia and believe that we can only go in one direction with one fate, then we are trapped. If we make mistakes and don’t believe that we can grow from them or learn a different way, then we are imprisoned. We are in jail.

Daniela, I want to tell my friend, “You are in jail, but there is an escape. RUN!”

As long as a person is alive, even if the door is shut and locked with a key, there’s a way out. It’s a tunnel, a process. It’s hard, and the tools that you need might not be what you expected. You might have to dig and dig and dig deep within yourself. You have to go through the digging to get from imprisonment to freedom. But what you will discover is a true gift from G‑d. You will find your inner soul deep within you, and you will have returned to who you can be.

So there is a way out. But first, you mustYou must believe that it’s possible to get out believe that it’s possible to get out.

The month of Elul is a time of preparation for the new year. It represents a new start, a new me and a new you. There is a custom to recite Psalm 27 every day during this month.

These words from King David teach us that even when everything looks helpless and when we feel as though everyone, even our own dear parents, have abandoned us, there is always a path to G‑d. “For my father and my mother have forsaken me, but the L‑rd gathers me in ... .” No matter what anyone says, thinks or believes, no matter even what we think or say about ourselves (“ ... false witnesses and speakers of evil have risen against me”), we still have this gift of return every moment that we are alive.

During the month of Elul, G‑d beckons us to find this escape tunnel and realize that it’s in front of us now more than ever. King David hints at the idea by using in this Psalm the word lulei, ל֗וּ֗לֵ֣֗א֗. If we rearrange the Hebrew letters of this word to spell it backwards, we get the Hebrew word Elul, the name of this month. Lulei means “had I not.” Had I not what? King David continues, “Had I not believed in seeing the good of the L‑rd in the land of the living!”

“Daniela,” I pray. “Believe! Believe in yourself. And believe that you can be better.”