Available now
at your favorite bookstore
or online at
Barnes & Noble,
and others


Winnie: My Life in the Institution
Jamie Pastor Bolnick

in a brand new second edition—first time in paperback!—
completely redesigned, revised & expanded,
containing the complete, unabridged text of the original
and new, previously unreleased, content!


(click for larger images)


Preview Chapter 1 of Winnie: My Life in the Institution

This remarkable book, published to widespread critical acclaim in 1985, has been long out of print and nearly impossible to obtain.


We are pleased to announce that a new edition of Winnie’s heart-rending and uplifting story is available NOW. The cover of the new edition is a full-color facsimile of Winnie's original notebook, and the book will include never-before-seen material, including

  • fascinating excerpts from interviews with two of Winnie's social workers,
  • selected pages from Winnie's hand-written book, and
  • a picture of the real Winnie as a teenager

Winnie's story was last shared with the world in a well-received 1988 NBC Movie of the Week starring Meredith Baxter Birney and David Morse. The movie, while not available for sale in any format, occasionally appears on TV: you can find out when by following this link.


These extracts from Winnie’s own preface and author Jamie Pastor Bolnick's foreword to the first edition sketch the story behind Winnie’s extraordinary life, her autobiography, and the author’s loving expansion of the original 20-odd-page autobiography into the beautifully-written first edition of Winnie — based on hundreds of hours of interviews with Winnie and the people who knew her best.

From Jamie Pastor Bolnick's preface:

Winnie Spockett was just six years old in 1938 when she was committed to a state institution for mentally retarded females. She was only mildly retarded—as an adult she had an I.Q. of about sixty-five, which roughly approximates a mental age of nine—and she acquired the equivalent of a fourth grade education (though her reading level was higher) in the institution school.

During a lunch break on a sticky August day, I overheard a group of summer workers talking about an institution resident who’d written her autobiography. .

Winnie had written the book in several spurts during the early and mid-1960s. Word of it got around the institution and, in time, most of the professional staff had read it. One of the psychiatrists used it in a lecture, and it was duplicated for graduate students in social work at the state university.

For a while there was even talk in the institution’s Psychology Department of having the book published in a psychiatric journal. The plan never materialized, but Winnie latched onto the idea and it became an obsession. She was determined to get her book published. Then it would be in bookstores and libraries, and the whole world—especially her indifferent family—would know how smart and important she was.

Winnie’s book was written in pencil, in longhand, in a child’s black copybook. On the cover, in the space next to “Subject,” she’d written the title, “My Growing Up in the Institution.” The book was short, a little more than twenty pages of writing divided into twenty-four choppy chapters.

At the core of this book is Winnie’s original, “My Growing Up in the Institution”. But most of Winnie is the result of the tape recorded interviews I conducted with her throughout that spring and summer, our many conversations, and the notes I took when we were together.

From Winnie's preface:

The reason I wrote a book is ’cause of Willy, he’s my sister’s husband. He said I was mentally retarded.

“That’s why you’re in the institution,” he told me. Right in front of my sisters, too.

I was still real mad when I got back to the institution. All I was thinking was, why did he have to go and call me that mean thing? I said to myself, “I’m gonna set down and write a book. ’cause mentally retarded people can’t write books, so I’ll show Willy just how retarded I am!”

I told everybody I was writing a book, boy, I let everyone know it. Some of the attendants, they teased me, said I thought I was a big shot ’cause I was writing a book. “Big deal, Winifred’s writing a book,” they said. “It’s going to her head now.” I didn’t care.

My book proves how much I know, proves how smart I am. And anyone who reads my book is gonna say, “Who is this girl? She sure isn’t mentally retarded!”

Now I’m even glad Willy called me retarded. The big mouth. He made me write my book.