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Last Updated on June 1, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1898

When Walter Dean Myers’s Lockdown opens, Maurice (Reese) Anderson has already spent twenty-two months in Progress, a juvenile facility for troubled youths. Reese desperately wants to be released from Progress, and some of the authorities at Progress have noticed his potential. Reese spends his first day in a pilot work-release program. His job is to do whatever is asked of him at Evergreen nursing home. When Reese returns to Progress after his day of work, he finds out from his friend Play that one of Progress’s bullies (Diego) is planning on jumping a young, defenseless inmate named Toon. While Reese and Play are accustomed to Diego’s making threats, they are more concerned this time because a hardened gang member named Cobo has been sent to Progress before he transfers to an adult facility. Reese is worried because he does not want to stand by while Toon is beaten up, but he knows that his future depends on his cleaning up his own record and getting out of Progress. The next morning, when the guards walk through and call roll, there is no answer from Toon’s cell. He shows up at breakfast with bruises and cuts.

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As Reese considers what to do about Toon, he receives a letter from his nine-year-old sister, Icy, his primary motivation for making something of himself. Icy tells him that she is working diligently to get into a charter school for ambitious students. She also informs Reese that their father has come around again asking for money and that a young man from their neighborhood was shot in the stomach and paralyzed. This and other letters between characters detail Reese’s difficult background and illustrate his conflicted emotions about his future.

Reese confronts Diego and Cobo as they plot to attack Toon again. The guard, Mr. Pugh, can see a fight is about to erupt, so he leaves the room. Reese and Cobo fight until the guards come back and haul them off to detention. While Reese sits in detention waiting to speak to Mr. Cintron, the facility’s supervisor, he fears that Mr. Cintron will expel him from the work program and send him to an adult prison. Mr. Cintron threatens Reese with harsh action, but he gives him one more opportunity to continue working at Evergreen only because he wants the program to work and is fearful that he will lose funding if the first candidate fails. Cintron warns Reese that if he “messes up” again, he will be sent to an adult prison.

During his second shift at Evergreen, Reese meets an elderly Dutch man named Mr. Hooft. Reese finds out that Mr. Hooft is extremely demanding, impatient, and racist, but he still finds himself confessing to Mr. Hooft and sharing his story. When Mr. Hooft asks Reese if he is a murderer, Reese tells him that he is in Progress for stealing prescription pads from a doctor’s office and selling them to a drug dealer.

One weekend, Reese’s mother finally comes to visit him, and Icy accompanies her. Reese is thrilled to see Icy and asks about all her plans. Mama is simply there for herself. She wants Reese to write his older brother, Willis, about joining the military, but Reese knows that his drug-addict mother just wants Willis’s enlistment bonus. Mama also pretends to be concerned about Reese’s future and encourages him to join a family program for youths after they are released from prison; Reese finds out soon after the visit that Mama gets money from the program if he signs up. The visit serves only to increase Reese’s distrust of his mother.

Even though Mr. Cintron sent Cobo away after the altercation with Reese, a new inmate shows up who is itching for a fight. King Kong (Tariq Sandes) is huge and tries to instigate a fight with Reese. Reese is able to distance himself from Tariq at first, but a basketball game turns violent, and Reese and Tariq begin to punch one another. Mr. Wilson, a rather compassionate guard, decides to put the boys in detention. He scolds them and then tells them that he is not going to report them this time.

When Reese returns to Evergreen, Mr. Hooft observes that something is weighing on his mind. Reese tells him about his struggles to resist the urge to fight. Mr. Hooft then tells Reese of his difficult childhood. Reese learns that Mr. Hooft and his Dutch parents had a rather idyllic life on the island of Java. When World War II broke out, however, the Japanese invaded, Hooft’s parents were separated, and he was eventually thrown into a Japanese prison camp with other young boys. Life in the camp was extremely harsh, and Mr. Hooft tells Reese that no one dared to move incorrectly for fear of being killed. One boy in the camp, however, was a bully and picked a fight with Mr. Hooft as he was loading a basket with a corpse in it onto a truck. Young Mr. Hooft fell to the ground with the basket on top of him, but the bully started kicking him. When the Japanese guards saw this, they knocked the bully to the ground and beat him to death. Mr. Hooft tells Reese that he still does not know why he was spared—he simply did not fight back because he didn’t have the strength to do so. The story has a profound effect upon Reese, and he realizes that he is not the only one who has had a tough life. He also discovers that survival is more important than reputation.

As Reese continues to work at Evergreen, he attends school at Progress. One day his teacher, Ms. Rossetti, asks her students what they fear. Reese does not join the group discussion, but later as he ponders Mr. Rossetti’s question, he realizes that his most significant fear is that he will end up spending his life in and out of places like Progress.

Later in the week, King Kong tries to beat up Toon, and Reese once again steps in. This time he is “sentenced” to a week in detention, which is Progress’s version of solitary confinement. While isolated from everyone else, Reese realizes that part of his desire to fight is because it reassures him that he is still alive. When Toon sees Reese again, he gives Reese a copy of Lord of the Flies, a novel that is ironically about the breakdown of civilization among a group of stranded boys.

The next day, Mr. Wilson unexpectedly tells Reese to come with him. He will not tell Reese where they are going, but Reese ends up at the police station being interrogated by two detectives. They inform Reese that the person to whom he sold the prescription pads has informed them that Reese also stole drugs and distributed them. Reese knows that he is not guilty of stealing or selling drugs, but he also realizes that he has little chance of convincing the detectives of that. They try to pressure him into confessing, but he will not budge and gets sent back to Progress with the threat that the detectives will be coming after him.

As he continues to work at Evergreen, Reese takes pride in his hard work and enjoys being outside of Progress even though his job is less than pleasant. Although Mr. Hooft is still blunt with Reese and makes racist comments, the two have begun to form a bond. One day as he enters Mr. Hooft’s room, Reese meets Mr. Hooft’s grandson, John. After John leaves, Reese asks Mr. Hooft about him, and Mr. Hooft breaks down crying. He confesses to Reese that he rarely has visitors and that no one would care if he died. Reese realizes that Mr. Hooft often puts on a facade of being happy and that Mr. Hooft would understand so situation, so the teen decides to talk to Mr. Hooft about his feelings of hopelessness. He asks Mr. Hooft if he ever considered acting out as a child in the prison camp to get himself killed. Mr. Hooft empathizes with Reese and advises him to try to think of something pleasant and unrelated to his confinement when he has such thoughts.

When Reese returns to Progress, he has another group session with Ms. Rossetti. As he listens to the other teens express what would make them happy, he finally decides to participate in the discussion and tells the group the general outline of Mr. Hooft’s story. He uses Mr. Hooft’s life to prove that all humans want to be happy, but when circumstances spin out of their control, they make up an alternate version of their lives in which they are happy. By relating Mr. Hooft’s story, Reese realizes that what would make him happiest is helping Icy attain her goals.

The next weekend, Reese receives a call from one of the detectives who is again trying to threaten him with more than twenty years in prison if he does not confess to distributing drugs. Reese is understandably shaken up by the threat and expects the detectives to show up at any time to haul him away to “real” prison. Fortunately, when he calls home, he gets to talk to Icy, and talking to her reminds him of his plans for helping her. After his conversation with Icy, Reese struggles with his conflicted emotions. He feels hopeless when it comes to his legal situation, but Mr. Hooft tells him that all people “make up their own lives.” When Reese returns to Progress he finds out from Mr. Cintron that the detectives have decided to drop the charges against him. Mr. Cintron warns Reese that when someone associates with the wrong type of people, he will always be a suspect for anything illegal that happens around him.

Later in the week, Toon gets a release date but is so anxious about returning to the pressure of his parents’ house that he tries to commit suicide. Reese is allowed to visit Toon in a separate section of Progress and encourages him to set his own goals. Soon afterwards, Reese appears before a panel to try to get an early release. While Reese effectively explains how he has changed and even uses what he has learned from Mr. Hooft to plead his case, the panel decides that Reese needs to complete his four remaining months. Mr. Cintron voted in favor of Reese’s early release and advises him to use his time in Progress and what he has learned wisely.

The novel’s epilogue shows Reese one year after his release from Progress. Each day is a struggle for Reese, but he has been successful in distancing himself from troublemakers and regularly meets with Toon to encourage the young boy. Reese’s mother still struggles with drug addiction, and Willis, Reese’s older brother, is now in prison on Riker’s Island. Reese has kept his job at Evergreen and built his friendship with Mr. Hooft. When Mr. Hooft passes away, he leaves Reese his cherished silver soap dish with a note signed, “Your friend, Pieter.” The novel concludes with Reese and Icy sharing their goals with one another and Reese focusing on helping Icy make her dreams a reality.

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