WINNIE: My Life in the Institution by Jamie Pastor-Bolnick

WINNIE: My Life in the Institution

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Gwynna Sprockett was committed to a state institution for mentally retarded females in 1938, age six. Except for two short forays outside, she remained institutionalized until her death at 42. In a rebellious effort to prove she wasn't retarded, Winnie wrote a book about her life. That material landed in Pastor-Bolnick's hands and she--using information gathered from interviews with Winnie, her attendants and her social worker--has created a first-person account of Winnie's life. Her life stripped to the bare essentials, Winnie feels basic pleasures intensely. Her book expresses the thrill and wonder of learning to read, the joy of waking up for the first time in a room with flowered paper on the walls and the pride in being able to care for a friend or take a bus by herself. And when love enters her neglected life, whether in the form of a family member who finally has the chance to show how much she cares or a special friend who takes the time to be sympathetic, one feels the full impact of anyone's need for human affection and warmth no matter what their mental state. There is no real villain here. It seems clear that Winnie needed the special attention that only an institution could provide (at least in 1938), and although she encounters some mean-spirited souls, there are many who genuinely care and do their best to help. The tragedy, if there is one, is that when Winnie finally gets a chance to taste the joys of freedom, the only available setting is a nursing home, where there is no one her own age or anyone who shares her special problems. Winnie is unable to adapt and is sent back to the institution. Beyond being a touching-and sometimes very funny--testament to an irrepressible spirit, Winnie reflects the need for human kindness and the power it has to nurture the spirit, even when life seems to have conspired to crush it.

Pub Date: Nov. 20th, 1985
ISBN: 0979586127
Publisher: St. Martin's