Jenny Espinoza-Marcus

Jenny Espinoza-Marcus
Location: San Rafael, California Cohort Start Year: 2019 Project Topics: Addiction and Substance Abuse, Criminal Justice, Early Childhood, Economic Stability, Education, Public Policy, Public, Population and Community Health, Racial Justice, Social Sector/Non-Profit, Violence and Trauma Populations Served: Adolescents (12-20 years), Adults (21-64 years), African-American/Black, At-Risk/Vulnerable Populations, Children (6-11 years), Children and Families, Drug/Alcohol/Tobacco Users, Foster Youth and Families, Hispanic/Latino/Latinx, Homeless Populations, Incarcerated or Formerly Incarcerated Populations, Low-Income Communities, Older Adults (65+), People with Addictions, Young Children (0-5 years)
Founder and Executive Director
Back to the Start

Back the Start’s vision is to reshape our nation’s social contract with the most vulnerable of our society to focus on investments in upstream development and growth rather than paying an even higher price on downstream systems, such as mass incarceration, that are only treating the symptoms of our policy failures.

There are numerous studies from economic, educational, health, and policy experts demonstrating that investments focusing on prevention, particularly during childhood, have the highest effectiveness and return on investment of any public policy strategy. These arguments, however, spanning several decades, have failed to garner broad support. Back to the Start aims to change this by providing narratives that have been missing in these campaigns.

Recognizing that stories are the main driver of social and policy change, Back to the Start produces powerful narratives underscoring the need for critical investments in early childhood and family resources. Co-led by incarcerated individuals at San Quentin and Dr. Espinoza-Marcus (former Chief Physician and Surgeon of California’s prison health care system), the new narrative series is written by incarcerated persons reflecting on the arc of their lives from childhood to incarceration. This initiative is grounded in the power of stories and provides a historically missing viewpoint to help build empathy and a shared understanding of the legacy of our nation’s systemic and racial inequities starting at birth.

STRATEGIC INITIATIVE: Collect & Share Narratives Highlighting the Cradle to Prison Pipeline to Reshape Policy on Public Investment on Childhood Development
The focus of my strategic initiative is to publish and/or produce a series of narratives from my patient population incarcerated at San Quentin and other prisons, reflecting on the arc of their lives, from childhood to incarceration. These compelling personal stories will highlight the cradle to prison pipeline and the legacy of our nation’s systemic and racial inequities, starting at birth. My goal of this initiative is to help inform policy decisions aimed at reshaping our nation’s social contract with the most vulnerable. Despite an abundance of data from economic, educational, and policy experts demonstrating that investments focusing on prevention, particularly during childhood, have the highest return on investment of any public policy strategy, these arguments have failed to garner broad support. Narratives are needed to illustrate missed opportunities and how society has instead become complacent with massive expenditures aimed at creating and maintaining the costly downstream system of mass incarceration. Ideal partners are documentary-makers, journalists, and storytellers committed to empowering the incarcerated population, as well as nonprofits focused on advocacy and policy at the intersection of health equity and the criminal justice system.

Jenny Espinoza-Marcus has served in leadership roles in some of our nation’s most challenging and underserved settings including as a Chief Physician and Surgeon in California’s prison system and Medical Director of a homeless veterans clinic in downtown San Francisco. However, it was her experience working on-the-ground as a primary care provider at San Quentin State Prison that inspired Dr. Espinoza-Marcus to become a Culture of Health leader. She had the opportunity to get to know patients over several years, and kept hearing the same stories about growing up in environments filled with trauma, violence, and poverty. In order to fundamentally improve outcomes for her patient population, she is now on a mission to delve deeper than treating symptoms, working collaboratively to build a Culture of Health to address the cycle of systemic and health inequities that got them there in the first place.