In 1990, Patrick Burke* killed a man in a fight. He spent two years as a fugitive, sold drugs, and killed another man in a drug dispute. He was arrested in 1993 and spent a year and a half on Rikers Island, New York City’s sprawling detention center—the first stop in two decades of incarceration. He was released in 2013.

In June of 2015, Patrick returned to Rikers Island for the first time in 20 years—to visit his son. This is his story, as told to W.M. Akers and illustrated by Josh Kramer.

*At the subject’s request, his name was changed.

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This piece was produced for The Human Toll of Jail, a storytelling project of the Vera Institute of Justice in collaboration with Narratively, supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation’s Safety and Justice Challenge.

Read more stories at The Human Toll of Jail.

W.M. Akers, a features editor at Narratively, is a Tennessee playwright who lives in New York City. He writes about theater at

Josh Kramer is a cartoonist and journalist who self-publishes The Cartoon Picayune, an anthology of comics journalism. His work can be found at