In the end, Christopher Knight couldn’t escape civilization.
After vanishing into the woods near Rome, Maine, in 1986 – and living without human contact for 27 years – Knight was sentenced Monday to seven months in prison and an intensive reintegration program after pleading guilty to burglary and theft. To survive, officials say, he committed hundreds of thefts and burglaries from local residents.
Knight, 47, was unmasked as the North Pond hermit in April after a game warden caught him burgling a kitchen at a camp for children with disabilities.
Officials discovered a well-concealed camp where Knight subsisted not by hunting or fishing but by filching essentials from locals, some of whom put supplies out on their back porches so he wouldn’t come into their homes.
Knight said he had spoken to a hiker once, in passing, during his 27 years of solitude. He told officials he had not been sick since vanishing into the woods. He sometimes kept up with current events with a radio and knew Barack Obama was president. He remained cleanshaven despite not appearing to have a mirror and had a pair of glasses.
But on Monday, Knight looked more unkempt after his time in jail than in his original booking photo, arriving at court with a long brown beard and graying hair around a bald crown.
He pleaded guilty to seven felony burglaries and six thefts, accepting a seven-month prison sentence to be followed by court monitoring intended to keep a close eye on him as he eases back into society.
District Attorney Maeghan Maloney said she pursued charges only in cases where victims had filed police reports, but she added that when she first met with potential victims in the case, there were about 40 people in the room.
Their opinions on how to feel about Knight – empathy or anger? – varied dramatically.
“The victims have had the same range that I see in the general population - people who think he never should have spent a day in jail, and people who think he should have life imprisonment,” Maloney told the Times.
But those victims, she said, all agreed on a single thing: having a chance to sit down with Knight as part of the remediation process and ask him questions about his 27 years as their silent neighbor.
“They’re curious about someone who was a part of their life for 27 years, but they never knew who it was, so they really want to be able to connect some dots that have been missing,” Maloney said. “They want to be able to ask questions like, ‘Why did you pick my camp? How did you break in?’ All these things that they’ve been wondering about for all these years.”
Maloney noted that Knight only appeared to steal consumables for the most part and would run away if someone was home during his thefts.
After his prison sentence, Knight will have to make weekly court appearances and abide by a nightly curfew, while also taking counseling sessions. If he violates the terms of his release, Knight could see up to seven years in prison.