Now, she has no money. A stellar tenant for three years, her landlord has asked her to move. She can hardly afford to eat. The cost of defending herself against the law has crippled her more than her diseases ever have.
This is a woman who—despite her numerous and severe ailments—has dedicated her life to charity work. When the DEA impounded her car, it was filled with school supplies headed for impoverished students.
Michelle DiGiacomo is not a criminal.
She needs our help.
Thank you for your donations to Michelle. Together, we raised $3,032.80 to help ease Michelle's burden. Although we didn't reach our goal of $7,500, the three thousand that we did raise is by no means petty; it will help Michelle to pay for her living costs, food, bail loan and legal fees. She and her daughter couldn't be more grateful. Thank you.
If you would still like to donate, you can do so using the button below. Every cent goes directly into Michelle's PayPal account.
Read a letter from Michelle
Read two signed letters from her doctors
Read a letter from Michelle →
Read two signed letters from her doctors →
A letter from Michelle
It is with great fear, sadness and a heavy heart that I write this letter. Our lives changed in a horrific way on September 13th and we will never be the same. I wanted you to hear it from me, prior to hearing it in the media. I feel as if I am broken beyond repair and I have never felt so defeated and alone in all of my life.
Many of you know that I am very sick. While I try not to dwell on it, I live a life that is filled with a great deal of physical pain. It is often severe and I have developed a high tolerance to it out of necessity; I can not take prescription pain medication. It makes me very sick so I am relegated to Advil or ibuprofen and I can not even use that regularly without stomach upset.
I suffer from Rheumatoid Arthritis, cervical spine disease, (for which I underwent spinal fusion surgery for in 2010 and now have a plate in my neck and four screws in my spine) rotator cuff disease, torn biceps, fibromyalgia and a host of other related ailments. I have a very low tolerance to drugs and have been forced off many due to major side effects. My disease is so bad that I receive monthly infusions of a drug called Orencia. It is much like chemotherapy and I must go to the hospital for treatment. I’ve recently had to hold off on those infusions while we sort out the latest side effects with still more tests.
There is one thing that helps to minimize my pain with little to no side effects and allows me to have some quality of life; marijuana. I realized its medicinal value when my husband was dying of cancer in 2008. He was in horrific pain and nothing else could help him. It simply works.
I was arrested for possession of medical marijuana on September 13. My daughter and I were home and my apartment was stormed by drug agents with guns in hand. This was after they busted down the back door to my apartment building, pointed guns in my neighbor’s faces and made it up to my apartment.
They were looking for guns, money and packaged drugs for sale. What they found was my personal, medicine; marijuana. No guns. No money. No packaged drugs. Just my medicine.
One agent asked me if I worked and I told him I was disabled. His response was “so what, a lot of disabled people work!” to which I replied that I can not work due to my disabilities but I do a great deal of charity work as I can do it from home. “Yeah right, sure you do,” he said. Minutes later, he found a box sent to the charity, addressed to me. He asked if it was my charity and I told him yes.
Another agent was screaming at me asking where all the money was. I told him I did not have any. He said he would get dogs and I again told him I did not have any money. He ripped my purse apart and took out my wallet. He went through it and pulled everything out of it. He opened a zipped pocket that holds a small urn with my husband’s ashes and a $5 bill that was in his wallet when he died. He threw it down and screamed “why don’t you have any more money than that?!” I cried back to him that I had spent all the money I had on fast food the night prior. He was very angry.
A women agent realized very quickly that I was sick and not what they were looking for. They stopped searching my house shortly after another agent pulled out a box containing my husband’s ashes. They knew I was not a drug dealer, but rather a very sick woman.
They seized my car as I had transported my medication in it. It contained a collection of about 50 backpacks which I had picked up that morning. They searched each and every one of them for drugs and/or money. They found school supplies. I still have not properly thanked the donor but I know they will be reading this. Thank you so much. Those were the most lovingly filled backpacks I have ever seen and they were put to good use.
I was about to be arrested as my beautiful little girl screamed and cried over and over “please don’t take her away, she is all I have”. It was beyond heartbreaking and I tried to be strong for her, telling her it would all be OK. My friend came to pick her up and I was grateful to know, she was with those who love her.
Realizing I was not well, the woman agent advised me to dress warm. She made me wear socks and heavy slippers as well as 2 shirts and a heavy jacket. She knew that I would be spending the night in jail on a slab of cold metal. I repeatedly begged them to let me take my neck brace with as I often sleep with it when I am experiencing a lot of pain, but they refused and said it would not be allowed in jail.
I was about to experience the worst 28 hours of my life.
I shared a cell with a woman who had severely beaten her grandchild. I didn’t tell her that I was working on legislation to prosecute people such as herself. She attempted to get in my bed to stay warm. She told me that’s how you do it in prison; you keep your cellmate warm. I told her that’s not how I do it in prison (!) and to leave me alone. I was kept awake all night long, listening to her talk to another prisoner about how selfish I was.
At 6 am, a guard “woke” us and made us sit up. We were not offered any food or drink. If we were thirsty, there was a water fountain attached to the cell toilet. At about 9am, they handcuffed us together and loaded 7 of us into the back of a police squadron. During the ride to the courthouse, a number of potholes were hit. Each time, all of us would fly up from our seats and come slamming down. We yelled to the police driving, but they were busy beeping and putting on their siren for the picketing teachers whom they were passing.
I got a shooting pain down my spine and feared my implant was injured. I had been advised the night before by the woman agent NOT to go to the hospital, as if I did, I would miss court and have to spend a second night in jail. With that in mind, I sucked it up.
I was originally told court would be at 10am. My friend was there and waiting and had retained an attorney for me at 11pm the night prior. As we moved from cell to cell, 10am came and went and it was noon by the time I found myself outside a courtroom. It was only then that we were offered a bologna sandwich and a small bottle of grape drink. Needless to say, I was unable to even eat it.
I met with my then attorney for about 3 minutes and was finally brought into the court room about 30 minutes later. Bond was set at $10,000 ($1000) and my dear friend waited until 5 pm before they would allow her to pay it. In the meantime, I was processed with all of the other prisoners, shuffled from cell to cell as they wrote more and more numbers on my arms and took more fingerprints and mug shots.
To say it was surreal would be putting it mildly. As the day progressed, my pain became worse and worse but it did not matter as I was not allowed any medication. It was close to 6 pm and I was herded to “medical” where I waited in a freezing room with about 20 other women.
I was finally called in to see the doctor who would ask me many questions. One of them was “were you injured in an accident recently?” to which I reply, “yes, in the police van on the way here.” She refused to write it down.
I heard my name called and ran into the other room as we were told we would be pulled if bail was posted. They told me never mind and I went back to the doctor. I was called again 10 minutes later and met by an angry male guard. “Don’t you want to leave?!?” he asked me in a frustrated voice. Yes, of course I do I told him. He then made me sign a paper. After doing so, I walked back about 10 feet to get my coat from a girl I had let use it. The guard then became angry and said “Oh, you want to stay and visit with your cronies? Go ahead, have a seat!” He then left me sitting there for about 30 more minutes and each minute felt like an hour. The cruelty was beyond belief and I felt so sorry for many of those girls as I knew that this was their home away from home and it was so very sad.
I finally made it to the end of the line about 8 pm where I was greeted by a very kind prison guard. He asked me to sign a final paper so I could get my belongings. It made me cry and I thanked him for his kindness after what I had just endured. I was finally given my eyeglasses after being near blind for the past 28 hours and was shown the door. As I walked out and down the stairs, it felt like an out of body experience. I could see the prison fence and needed to pass through a guard tower. Within 2 or 3 minutes, my dear friend who had been there since 9 that morning magically appeared and I collapsed into her arms.
Even as I write this, it still seems surreal and I can not believe this has happened to me. I was hospitalized a week later with chest, neck and back pains and a very painful arthritic/fibromyalgia flare. Stress only exacerbates my illness.
I had a court date last Wednesday and was told I could have my car back. My lawyer neglected to ask the judge to drop the fees based on my financial circumstances. When I later called, I was told it would be nearly 3000, which I do not have.
My landlord has asked me to move, in spite of the fact that I have been a good tenant for the past 3 years and he was about to renew my lease for another 2 years.
I have had to rent a car for the last month which has cost a fortune and I am behind on other bills as a result. I will need to use all of my next social security check to get my car so I will have no money to live on, much less to find a new place to live.
My next court date is October 24th at which time I will be forced to ask for a public defender. While my attorney originally said his advance would cover 3 court appearances, he does not want to attend the next one for fear the judge will not let him recuse himself from the case and he will “get stuck” with me. I told him I wish to ask for a trial and he has asked for $20,000 up front, $40,000 total. This may as well be a billion dollars to me right now as I am concerned about things like eating at the moment.
I should be working on Letters to Santa right now but instead, I am worrying about how to get through these next few months. My charity is my life and I do not know what I would do without it. Aside from my children, it gives me a reason to live and it helps to ease the pain I live with on a daily basis. It is like medicine to me.
I have no intention of stopping the work I do and I hope you will continue to do it with me.
I have shared my life through Direct Effect for many years and it was time to share this. I need help in many ways right now and if there is anything you can do to help, I would greatly appreciate it.
Currently, I am seeking as many letters of reference as I can. Since I am basically going to be on my own in a courtroom, I thought letters of reference would be a start in my defense.
If you have been working with Direct Effect for many years and could share that in a letter, I would very much appreciate it. My doctors have written letters as well.
I am also in GREAT need of financial support. If you could help in any way, I would be so grateful. I considered setting up an online fundraiser but they collect a percentage of donations, so I am opting not to. Every cent I can raise is precious to me right now.
Letters and/or checks can be sent to Michelle DiGiacomo, 4064 N Lincoln, #400, Chicago, 60618. Paypal donations can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org and if you mark them as a gift, there are no fees. Any donations written to me will be to help with my legal defense and moving expenses (this is not tax deductable) and any to the charity will be to help with the upcoming Letters to Santa season.
If by chance you have any legal expertise you could share, I would appreciate that as well. I am incredibly lost right now and am not sure where to turn. My head is spinning and I am doing my best to keep it above water. There are days when I feel as if I am going to completely break down and I have to keep reminding myself that I am a survivor. I need to be strong for my daughter and get through this just as I have past struggles.
Any help you can offer me would be greatly appreciated. It is hard for me to even ask, but I’ve realized, I am left with little choice.
I would also ask that you please call your state representatives and ask for their support in the pending Medical marijuana bill in Illinois, HB 30. It is going to vote on November 27th and only 3 more votes are needed to pass. It is so very important for many thousands of patients like me. Something is very wrong when people who are truly sick need to become a criminal in order to receive their medication. If my doctors who have treated me for years support my medical need, that should be enough. If the bill is not passed in Illinois, I may have no choice but to relocate to a state which allows the compassionate use of medical marijuana.
One of my first instincts early on was to call my journalist friend Jeffry Zaslow. It is truly because of Jeff that Direct Effect exists. Sadly, I remembered that he passed away this year. He can no longer tell my story. I will however share it with a journalist who can reach a larger audience than I, in hopes of passing the pending Bill. It is so very important.
What happened to me should never happen to another sick person, ever again. I hope our legislators will be listening.
I thank you for your support throughout the years and I hope to continue the good work we have been doing for so long. There are 10,000+ kids expecting Christmas presents from us this year and I plan to do all in my power to make that happen. Please join me.
With Love and Gratitude,
Letters from Michelle's doctors