April 05, 2018 09:00 AM

Mike “The Situation” Sorrentino is facing a real situation — and his costars are rallying behind him as best as they can.

The Jersey Shore star is facing up to five years in prison after pleading guilty to tax evasion in a New Jersey federal court in January. Opening up to PEOPLE in this week’s issue, the cast of the beloved MTV series — which returns Thursday with a brand new season, Jersey Shore Family Vacation — weighs in on Sorrentino’s case as he awaits his April 25 sentencing.

“I really, really hope he doesn’t wind up having to go to jail,” says Deena Cortese, 31. “When it comes to prison, I don’t think anybody is prepared for that. I’m hoping that they go easy on him. He became such a better person — and he was a villain for so long. We couldn’t even stand him, and now he’s so different. I can’t wait for people to see how much he’s changed.”

Jenni “JWoww” Farley, 32, says she calls Sorrentino “The Inspiration” instead of ‘The Situation” now.

“He has such a different view on life now,” she says. “I’m so proud of how far he has come.”

Mike "The Situation" Sorrentino
Phillip Faraone/FilmMagic

Indeed, Sorrentino has worked hard to turn his life around and is now 28 months sober after battling a years-long prescription painkiller addiction.

“He’s not an a—hole any more,” says Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi, 30. “He’s full of life and positive energy. But he’s still cocky!”

“I’m hoping for positive results for him,” she adds. “And he survived a house with us raging lunatics sober and so positive, so god forbid he goes, jail should be a breeze.”

  • For more on Sorrentino, his costars and the Jersey Shore reboot, pick up this week’s issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday

Ronnie Ortiz-Magro, 32, famously feuded with Sorrentino throughout the show’s original run — but now he says he’s proud of his former foe.

“I always knew what he was doing behind cameras and nobody else knew,” he recalls. “I knew about his addictions and his bad habits, and that kind of ate at me. Because here this guy was, causing all this trouble, and it wasn’t really him. It was the demons inside of him.”

“It took him hitting rock bottom to humble him out and bring out the good person inside of him,” he continues. “Some people need that, and I’m sorry for the stuff that he’s going through — but it has made him a better person. We were very thankful that we got to live with Mike this time, and not ‘The Situation.’ “

Vinny Guadagnino and Pauly “DJ Pauly D” DelVecchio agree.

“He’s a completely different person,” says Guadagnino, 30. “I mean, Mike went from being the guy that you didn’t want to be around to being a guy that is actually uplifting and inspirational. He holds his head high — he’s more positive than me.”

DelVecchio, 37, admits Sorrentino used to be quite the “arrogant a—hole.”

“That’s not the case anymore,” he says. “He’s like a gentleman now, he’s sweet. It’s the weirdest thing for me. Sometimes on the show I’m like, ‘Mike, can you say something negative to somebody? Please?!’ “

As for how they think their friend would handle prison?

“That’s some scary stuff, I’ve got to be honest,” says DelVecchio. “I wouldn’t wish what he’s going through on anybody. I really hope that he doesn’t have to go away. I mean, that would be the worst thing that could ever happen.”

But if it came down to it, Guadagnino says he thinks Sorrentino would “handle it better than any of us.”

“I think he would handle it better than a lot of people out there, just because his mind is very positive right now,” he says. “He accepts everything and he takes everything one day at a time. He has all the tools to get through what he’s going through.”

From left: Paul "DJ Pauly D" DelVecchio, Ronnie Ortiz-Magro, Jenni "JWoww" Farley, Nicole "Snooki" Polizzi, Mike "The Situation" Sorrentino, Deena Cortese, Vinny Guadagnino
MTV

And Sorrentino himself is doing his best to stay positive.

“I’ve done everything in my power to better myself,” he says. “I really feel that I’m in the best situation possible. “We should receive some closure [at the sentencing]. And I’ll try to move forward with my life.”

“I’m so proud of this season,” he adds. “It took a lot of hard work just to get there. I had to challenge myself to do my job and be funny and be myself — along with some obstacles and a lot of things facing me at that time. So for me to finish it and finish it the way that we did, I’m so blessed and grateful. I really am. I can’t wait for everyone to meet the new Situation.”

Jersey Shore Family Vacation premieres Thursday at 8 p.m. ET on MTV.

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