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Authors: Walter Dean Myers

Tags: #Juvenile Fiction, #Social Issues, #Drugs; Alcohol; Substance Abuse, #Violence, #People & Places, #United States, #African American

Lockdown (2 page)

BOOK: Lockdown
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Six o’clock in the morning and everybody was up. I heard Mr. Wilson making the rounds, calling out everybody’s name. He thinks it’s funny to call people names like the Godfather and stupid stuff like that. When he called out your name, you was supposed to yell out, “Glad to be here, sir!”

“Mr. Robinson the Terrorist!”

“Glad to be here, sir!” Play called back.

“Mr. Sanchez the bank robber!”

“Glad to be here, sir!” Diego called.

“Mr. Anderson the Vampire!”

“Glad to be here, sir!” I called to him.

“Mr. Billy the Kid!”

Toon didn’t answer.

“Mr. Deepak the Serial Killer!”

Still no answer.

I heard Wilson go walking down the hall and then heard him on his walkie-talkie. Something had happened to Toon.

Wilson got us out and lined us up. When they took Toon from his room he was really messed up. His eye was all swollen and there was dried blood under his nose. Somebody had fucked him up bad. I guessed he was the youngest dude in the 3-5-7.

Wilson took Toon down to the nurse’s station on the first floor. I felt real sorry for the dude, but I figured it was over and nobody else would mess with him. I tried to push it from my mind, but it wasn’t that easy. Sometimes, when I get real mad, I can feel my neck swell up a little. I don’t know why that happens, but it does. I took some deep breaths and tried to think about Icy’s letter. She and her friend were going to enter a double-Dutch contest. She said she didn’t think she was going to win but she needed the practice.

Thinking about Icy calmed me down. Some.

We had eggs and two little hard sausage patties for breakfast and the kind of potato thing they serve
at McDonald’s, but it was almost too hard to eat. Play said he was going to carry it around in his pocket all day and maybe the heat from his body would make it soft.

I was back in my room and checking everything for inspection when Mr. Pugh stuck his big head in.

“You like the breakfast you had this morning?” he asked me.

“It was okay,” I said, not wanting to complain.

“Uh-huh. If we find out who beat up the Puerto Rican kid, we’re going to have his ass on the menu for lunch,” Pugh said.

“He ain’t Puerto Rican,” I said.

“Shut up.”

Yeah.

“Everybody’s in lockdown until 8:30 because we got some new equipment coming in,” Pugh said.

We were on lockdown whenever there were strangers in the building. Play said that they were afraid that someone would tell us that Lincoln freed the slaves.

I wish I had said that.

Lockdown was cool. In my mind I knew I could deal with being alone. When I first got to Progress, it
freaked me out to be locked in a room and unable to get out. But after a while, when you got to thinking about it, you knew nobody could get in, either. That was the cool part about being in Progress. You were in lockdown but you were also shutting the world out.

My cell is 93 inches long and 93 inches wide. The door is 32 inches wide and the window in the door is 22 inches wide. The toilet is at the far end, away from the door but near the front window, which looks out on a highway. If I fold my blanket up, I can stand on it and see cars going by or look down and see the fence with the barbed wire. Sometimes I like to look out at night and see the headlights and the red taillights from trucks as they pass. The window is closed tight and I can’t hear them, but I can imagine how they sound.

Nothing moves in the cell except me. The bed comes out from the cinder-block walls, which are painted green. The closet is fastened into the wall at the end of the bed. From the window to the corridor you can’t see much, but anybody can look in and see you whenever they want to, even when you’re using the toilet.

I sat on the edge of my bed and took out my letter from Icy again.

Dear Reese,

How are you? I was thinking about you and I found a letter that Mama had written to you but didn’t mail. It was a stupid letter anyway. Sometimes when I’m in bed at night I think about you and what you are doing. If you could think about me every night at exactly 9 o’clock, then we would be thinking about each other at the same time.

Jeni and I are going to enter a double-Dutch contest run by the church day camp. We can’t jump that good, but I think if I get enough practice I’ll be able to jump really good by next summer.

Everybody around the block is saying that the 4th grade is going to be soooo hard. You have x’s in math in the 4
th
grade and you have to figure out what the x stands for. Mama is still sick. Luther came around and asked Willis if he could borrow $20. Willis said that Luther was the father and he should be
loaning out the money.

You remember that old light-skinned woman who was living on the first floor? Her grandson got shot in the stomach. All he was doing was sitting on the stoop drinking some soda and there was some shooting across the street and one bullet came all the way over and got him. He was an innocent boy. He didn’t die, but they don’t know if he’s going to be able to walk again. His name is Ghana.

Can you write back? I would like to get a letter from you.

Your sister,
Icy

Out of lockdown. The light hurting my eyes. Me feeling stiff from the cot as I line up.

In class Diego was grinning and stuff, and the new kid, Cobo, was acting like he was down with everything. He started cracking on the teacher, Miss Rossetti. It was getting to her, and she told him that if he gave her a hard time she would put him on report. He gave her a mean look and I thought she looked a little scared.

Toon looked down at his desk all morning. There were minutes when I thought me and Toon were the same person. I was on the outside, dark and ready with my fists if anything went down, and Toon was the me on the inside, always a little nervous, always
looking around to see what was going to happen to him. When dudes messed with Toon I felt they were messing with me. It didn’t make a lot of sense, but it was something inside me.

We got this big colored cook named Paris, and at lunch he was slapping meat loaf on everybody’s plate like it was steak or something. He asked me if I wanted some gravy on it and I said, “Yeah.”

“You ain’t man enough for no gravy!” he said. “Get out of here.”

He was messing with me but it didn’t mean nothing. The gravy was probably foul anyway.

Toon was in the mess hall when we got there. He looked real sad. But even when he was looking sad he looked like a cartoon. Play came and sat across from me. I saw he had some gravy on his meat loaf.

“Diego said that Toon cried when they were jumping him in,” Play said.

“Shit.” I knew that meant that he wasn’t jumped in. “He’s going to do him again?”

Pugh came by and we kept quiet.

The afternoon was one of them terrible ones. The air was real still, and whatever Miss Rossetti said sounded like
buzz-buzz-buzz
. I kept falling asleep and
jerking my head up until she told me to stand up. If we had been in regular school I wouldn’t have stood up, but I did because Miss Rossetti was okay. She wasn’t trying to mess with anybody.

After school, group was canceled again, and we just sat around. Toon was in the corner by himself and Diego was laughing at him. Cobo went over and talked to Toon, and you could see Toon was freaking out.

Play was playing Ping-Pong with Mr. Pugh, but when it was just about time that we could turn on the television, he came over to where I was sitting.

“That new guy told Toon they were going to kill him because he punked out when they tried to jump him in,” Play said.

“Get out of here.”

“He told Diego to do him.”

I looked up and saw that Toon had his face down in his hands. Toon acted kind of simple, but he never bothered nobody. I knew he didn’t go asking if he could get into the 3-5-7, either.

Something told me to mind my own business, but I went over to where Diego was sitting.

“What you want?” he asked.

“Why you messing with Toon?” I asked.

“Why’s it your business?”

“Toon ain’t nothing but a kid,” I said. “Why don’t you leave him alone?”

“Why your breath stink so much?” he asked.

“It’s from kissing your mama,” I said.

He stood up and I stood up with him. We were like right on top of each other and he was bigger than me, but I was looking him dead in his eyes.

Pugh came over and stood right next to us, just like we were standing, except next to us he looked like a big-assed white mountain.

“The first one of you jerks to throw a punch I’m gonna kill, bury, and then piss on his grave,” Pugh said.

“Why don’t you kill the guy who beat up Toon?” I said.

“You the town snitch?” Pugh asked.

I turned and walked away.

“All of you are getting a little frisky today,” Mr. Pugh said real loud. “You’re all on lockdown for the rest of the day!”

When Wilson marched us to dinner, there were about nine white people sitting on one side of the
mess hall with Mr. Cintron. There were two guys in suits sitting a little apart from them, and I figured they were guards. Pugh said we could talk if we kept the noise down.

“We supposed to be able to talk at dinner all the time,” Play said.

“Shut up,” Mr. Pugh answered.

The white people kept looking over at us, and I saw that Mr. Cintron was talking to them. They were eating something but I couldn’t see what it was.

“Yo, Play, you thinking they eating the same thing we eating?” I asked, pointing to my two franks, sauerkraut, and mashed potatoes.

“If one or two of them curl up and die, then you’ll know they got the same thing we got,” Play said.

I saw Cobo go over past Toon and take one of his franks. I think Pugh saw it too, but he didn’t say nothing.

Dinner is forty-five minutes, the same as the other meals. You could eat it in ten minutes but they give you forty-five anyway. Five minutes before the dinner period was over, the visitors got up and left. Mr. Pugh told us we had to wait until they were out of the building.

“Take five!” he said. “Smoke ’em if you got ’em!”

He knew none of us had any cigarettes, or at least we weren’t supposed to have them, and he would report us if we did get some. We waited for twenty minutes past the end of dinner period before Mr. Cintron came back.

“That was a facility reform committee,” he said. “They’ve got some good ideas, but they’ll never come about.”

“What kind of ideas?” Mr. Pugh asked.

“To put each young person with an individual tutor,” Mr. Cintron said. “They figure it’d be more cost efficient than just warehousing these kids over and over. I’m supposed to fly up to Albany tonight and plead the case tomorrow, but I know the legislature won’t spend the money for it. They’re not smart enough. I’ll be back by the afternoon with the bad news.”

“Instead of that, you could get them individual tutors to kick their butts,” Mr. Pugh said. He was laughing. If the legislature was made up of people like him…

When we left we saw the girls waiting in the hallway to come into the mess hall. They were pissed
because they had been standing outside the whole time.

“We ate everything,” Leon said. “That’s what took us so long.”

We got ten minutes of free time before they put us back on lockdown, and I knew that Toon would be safe for the night. But we wouldn’t be on lockdown once Mr. Cintron got back. I told Play that I was thinking about telling Mr. Cintron.

“You can’t be no snitch, man,” he said. “You can’t be no snitch.”

I knew no one wanted me to be a snitch. Even the guards didn’t respect anyone who passed along information. All we had were each other and sometimes you needed some homies, even if they were just temporary, to get by. Play was cool with me, but I knew if he thought he couldn’t trust me then he’d have to walk away from me if anything went down.

I thought about writing Icy a letter, but I didn’t want to write nothing stupid or just something about the joint. When I was first sentenced, she and Willis were in the court and the judge let me say good-bye to them.

“Progress doesn’t sound too bad,” Icy had said.

She was crying because she knew I was sad. Willis was telling me to be strong, and I was saying something—I don’t even remember what—and looking around him to see if Mom was going to show. She didn’t. On the way to Progress I imagined her waking up off a bad high and wondering what day I would be sentenced. No way she was going to say it was her fault she didn’t show.

“Somebody must have given me the wrong date,” she’d say with her proper way of talking.

I wouldn’t write anything about Progress. The name sounded good and we were supposed to believe we were somehow actually moving in some direction, but it wasn’t nothing but a juvy jail. From the way Mr. Cintron talked, it would get a lot worse if more kids were assigned to it.

I tried to sleep without thinking about Toon. What was happening was just happening. That’s the way life was. Shit just came together, and if it rolled in your direction you got messed up.

What I knew, though, was that Cobo never did want no Toon in the 3-5-7. He was just the kind of gangsta fool who always went around looking for somebody to mess with. Luther was like that too.

Sometimes I think that’s how he hooked up with Moms. She was weak enough to take him in and he was mean enough not to care about nothing except himself.

A month before I got arrested, he had met me on the corner of 145
th
Street, near where the bus depot was. He told me he didn’t think I was his real son.

That was supposed to make me feel bad and it did. It hurt, but all I could think about was how I could get back at him. I didn’t say it, but I thought it.

We got up in the morning and it was lightning and thundering.

“In the old days,” Pugh said, “they wouldn’t execute a man during a lightning storm. Too dangerous.”

I looked at the fool to see if he was serious. He was.

I saw Toon at breakfast and he looked the same. That stupid face he always wore, kind of round and wide-eyed with his hair sticking out all over his head, was looking more like a leftover pumpkin or something. The skin around his eye was yellow and blue, colors you didn’t even expect to see on a real person, and the way he was holding his face when he was
trying to eat his eggs, you could tell he was paining.

Diego and Cobo were sitting together. Cobo was still acting like he was some kind of big-time gangsta, and Diego was sucking up.

We finished breakfast, and Wilson said we had to wait until the girls came downstairs before we went to classes.

“They’re getting a lecture on birth control,” he said.

“All you got to tell them,” Pugh said, “is to stay away from these knuckleheads.”

We went to the dayroom instead of our cells, and I knew that the cells were being inspected as soon as Wilson left us. I thought about my place. I knew it was clean, so I didn’t have anything to worry about. Anyway, you only got a demerit for dirt in your room, you didn’t drop a level.

We were sitting around when I saw Toon go to the bathroom. Cobo snapped his fingers twice to get Diego’s attention and then pointed at Toon.

“Diego!” I called to him. “Sit down, man.”

Pugh looked up and then he looked at me and Diego. He knew something was happening.

“I think I’ll get myself some coffee,” he said.

Pugh was going to let the shit happen. He knew if I got into it, I could lose my gig at Evergreen.

“What you got to say?” Diego asked me from across the room as soon as Pugh closed the door.

I looked over at Play, and his eyes were dead on me, seeing what I was going to do. Diego couldn’t handle me, I knew that. He looked strong but I didn’t think he had the heart. But it wasn’t Diego making the world go round. It was Cobo.

I went over to where he was sitting. He laid his head to one side and hooked his thumbs in his belt like I was some shorty he was watching on a playground. He was sitting on one of the folding chairs and had it tilted back. I kicked the leg and he went back onto the ground.

Diego took a step toward me, and Play stood up and pointed at him.

“You want him—you got me, too,” Play said.

Cobo got to his feet, looked me up and down, and then the sucker just exploded on my ass! The sucker was hitting me with his fists, his elbows, kneeing me in my side. I was down on my knees covering up and he was pounding me on the back of my head. I was in a blind panic when I grabbed his ankle and
pulled it up as hard as I could.

He started to go down backward and reached out to grab onto something, but there wasn’t anything there. When he reached back for the floor he was all open, and I smashed his face as hard as I could. I don’t remember a lot more but I know I kept swinging. Then I felt myself going up in the air and down hard on the back of the couch, which knocked all the wind out of me. Before I could see where I was, my hand was being twisted behind me and I felt the handcuff on my wrist.

I looked over my shoulder and it was Pugh.

He went over to where Cobo was trying to get to his feet and gave him a straight kick right in the stomach. Then he twisted his arm behind him and handcuffed him, too. Wilson must have heard the commotion, because he came running in. I got dragged out of the dayroom and pushed into my quarters. I heard the door slam behind me and just lay on the floor, still handcuffed.

I lay there for about an hour, maybe even two. Then Mr. Pugh, Mr. Wilson, and some other dude I didn’t know got me out and took me to the detention cell.

The detention cell didn’t have anything in it except a toilet. You had to sit on the floor. They
brought me some water and a bologna sandwich later on and I told them to keep it. But I ate it when I got hungry.

I got another bologna sandwich for breakfast with a container of milk.

It was a long day, and I sat in the cell by myself until Mr. Pugh came and got me and took me to Mr. Cintron’s office. I started to sit down but he made me stand up and face away from him. He got right behind my back and started talking to me real soft like any minute he might have offed me. I was thinking he was probably hard when he was on the streets.

“Anderson, do you have to work on being stupid or does it just come natural to you?” Mr. Cintron said.

“I ain’t got nothing to say,” I said. “I just did what I did.”

“The guy you fought is going to be doing that same kind of fighting in some kind of institution for the rest of his life. And believe me, he’s going to be in some kind of institution for the rest of his life. What the hell do you need that for?”

I tried to think of something to say, but I couldn’t.

“Eddie said you were looking out for one of the
younger boys,” Mr. Cintron said. “But I don’t know if I believe him. All I know is that I stood up for you and you let me down. That’s all I know.”

“I’m sorry, sir.”

“This isn’t about sorry, Reese. You’re not on the street stepping on somebody’s sneakers. You’re behind bars. You’re with people who don’t mind seeing you throw your life away. You can’t figure that out?”

“Sir…”

“Shut up, Reese,” Mr. Cintron said. “Just shut up. I’m going home tonight. Home to my wife and children and my lovely apartment and I’m going to think about this. You know what freaking power I have over you now? Do you know what—”

He just stopped talking like he was disgusted or something. I wanted to turn around to see his face, but I didn’t.

When Mr. Pugh took me back to my quarters, he asked me if I was all right. I said, “Yeah.”

“As soon as I turned my back you started acting up,” he said.

“Yeah.”

Dear Icy,

It was nice getting your letter. You made me feel a lot better. Sometimes it gets pretty bad in here, but I feel good thinking about you and Willis and the good times we will have when I get out. Do you remember when we went to Coney Island and you went on all those rides? That’s the first thing we’ll do when I get home. Tell Willis to save up a lot of money.

We have a real funny-looking boy in here. We call him Toon because he looks like a cartoon. He’s only a little older than you are. I told him about you and he asked if you had a boyfriend and I said yes, you did.

Icy, I am going to try to get out of here as soon as I can so we can be a family again. I don’t know the exact date, but I hope it’s soon.

Your favorite brother,

Reese

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