Michael Guglielmo grew up in a middle-class family in Northport, New York. He had a loving mother and a hard-working father. But he was a deeply troubled young man. He was diagnosed with dyslexia, had severe anger management issues, and became known as a bully and troublemaker in school. After one brutal fight, he was expelled.
He was a 16-year-old boy, 5-foot-8, and barely 100 pounds, with the attitude of a gangster. “I thought I was Tony Montana,” he says, referring to Al Pacino’s character in Scarface. “I formed my morals watching movies about thugs and gangsters.”
By 19 Michael was a wanted man for stabbing a street thug. He ran to New Hampshire to start a new life but quickly resorted to his old ways. “I couldn’t run away from myself,” Michael says.
Then came news he thought would turn his life around–his girlfriend was pregnant. But right after the birth, she devastated him by giving up their daughter. “She just left the kid in the hospital and told them to give it to somebody,” Michael recalls. “She said I would never see the baby again. That pushed me over the edge.”
On a cold December day in 1985, a depressed Michael got drunk and high on cocaine and took out his anger on a local drug enforcer. Armed with a MAC-10 submachine gun, a pistol, and a cache of ammunition, he broke down the door and sprayed the apartment with bullets. The enforcer escaped, and police armed with shotguns, automatic rifles, and tear gas surrounded the house. When SWAT Commander Dale Robinson tried to start a dialogue, Michael answered with bullets.
Five hours later, Robinson gave the green light for snipers to take the shooter out. But shortly after, Michael ran out of ammunition and surrendered. He was convicted of multiple counts of attempted murder and faced up to 45 years in prison. In his first week in prison, he attacked a guard and was placed in maximum security. Locked in a concrete cell 23 hours a day, Michael had time to do some thinking. “The one thing that kept me alive was the desire to be a father,” he recalls. “I told myself I would figure out a way to get my child back.”
He needed a plan. After a few months behind bars, he saw his opportunity. “I saw a lot of injustice with guards and how they treated prisoners,” Michael explains. “I started reading lawbooks to see how to combat this, and it made me an idealist. And there is nothing more dangerous than an idealist.”
Michael began filing lawsuits for inmates. From his first–an injunction to stop the prison from forcing prisoners to use toxic spray paint in an unventilated area–to lawsuits against individual guards for injuries to prisoners, his actions made him a hero with the inmates and a thorn in the side of the establishment. For this, he believes he was punished: “They sent me to the most dangerous prison in Connecticut–Somers.”
At Somers Northern Correctional Institute, he continued as an inmates’ advocate. “For the first time in my life I knew I was doing something right,” says Michael, “and it made me evermore courageous.”
Michael’s notoriety spread beyond prison walls when the media picked up stories of his legal exploits. With greater success, he began to better himself in other ways: “Reading all those law books led me to reading the classics–books that talked about rights of man. I was learning about humanity and what it meant to be human for the first time.”