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.
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.
(The entire section is 1,898 words.)