In his first sit-down interview since leaving the Federal Correctional Institution in Otisville, New York, on Sept. 12, the reality star opened up about how his loved ones offered him "strength" -- and what their emotional reunion was like.
"I saw the cast... the day after [I was released]," Mike tells ET's Brooke Anderson. "It was unbelievable. It was just a lot of emotions all at once and I'm just very grateful to have such close relationships with friends that I call family today."
Sorrentino passed his time in prison reading magazines, the Bible and working out and watching himself on Jersey Shore, but also says he spent most of his days talking to Lauren on the phone and communicating with his JS fam (Jenni "JWoww" Farley, Vinny Guadagnino, Nicole "Snooki" Polizzi, Deena Cortese, Pauly "DJ Pauly D" DelVecchio, Ronnie Ortiz-Magro and Angelina Pivarnick) via e-mail.
"I felt very accomplished staying busy in prison," Mike says. "Every single day I tried to be my best self and better than the day before. And to move forward. And that was it. And to be honest with you, I was very successful."
Mike kept in touch with Lauren every day over the phone, but sent back-and-froth e-mails with his co-stars. "Every single day I would look forward to getting an email from my wife or getting an email from Pauly D or Snooki, it was... It really made the time fly by," he shares. "They all communicated with me almost every single week. I was surprised, a lot of people [sent] a handwritten letter, it was unbelievable."
Ronnie's handwritten letter was "emotional," Mike recalls. "My friends, all of them, they said pretty much the same thing. They couldn't believe the strength that me and my wife had to be able to go through this process with such grace and class and they were so proud of me and they couldn't wait to see me get home and get back to work filming Jersey Shore." Lauren came to visit every week, while his co-stars came in person about every two months. Still, they didn't tell him about their "Free Sitch" campaign in Washington, D.C., to try to get him released in August.
"I was watching TV and I saw it on TV," he reveals. "You know, I thought I had the best friends on this earth to be doing all this with a 'Free Sitch' shirt on, and it showed me that they cared. When you're in prison, you realize what is the most important thing. That's family, friends, experiences, love, those are the intangibles of life."
Mike says that his recovery from addiction was "way harder" than prison. "I would choose prison over recovery," Lauren agrees.
"I believe my recovery over the past couple of years has prepared me for this journey to go through prison," Mike explains. "Our main goal throughout the whole process was to handle it with grace and class -- not only for ourselves, but to show the young, the generation out there how to handle adversity and move forward and continue to be the best, even if you make mistakes."
The reality star tried to impart some of that wisdom on his fellow prisoners.
"I just saw a lot of guys with depression and anxiety getting the best of them. I saw them literally staring at the wall, not doing anything. You can see how it was eating at them, the isolation, being away from their family," he remembers.
"He really helped a lot of people in there," Lauren says, noting that several people have reached out to her. 'They said, 'I just want to thank you for being such a big part of his life. He made my time go by faster. And he made me learn and challenge and grow myself to become better while in there.'"
"And also from being there, he helped me," she adds. "He would email me and motivate me and uplift me and encourage me, every day while he was in prison, which not many people can do."
Now that he and Lauren have reunited, the couple is looking forward to starting a family. "We've been practicing," Mike teases.
"We're working on it," Lauren adds. "We're also working a lot, so luckily we get to work together, travel together."
"We run our businesses together with our online store that we work with, and then Jersey Shore and then working on some new projects too and just growing our family," Mike says. "So, it's a lot of things happening at once."
The New Jersey native couldn't be prouder of his evolution and looks forward to what's ahead. "Probation is very detailed, but it's pretty much the main goal is to stay sober and to stay out of trouble for two years along with community service," he explains. "I can't afford any misunderstandings."
"I don't think there will be an issue. I look forward to continuing to be my best self and living my best life with my beautiful wife," he adds.
"The comeback is truly greater than the setback," he says.
Tune in to ET on Tuesday for Mike and Lauren's full sit-down interview.