When Chicago police officer Jim Mullen was shot in the cheek and spine on duty, most thought he wouldn’t make it. He was instantly paralyzed and would spend the rest of his life dependent on a ventilator to breathe.
Mullen and three other officers were responding to reports of gunfire in Rogers Park in 1996 when George Guirsch, 61 at the time, opened fire, forever bounding Mullen to a wheelchair.
Guirsch was originally sentenced to 140 years in prison (later resentenced to 100 years) and died in his jail cell in November 2011.
“I really hold no malice toward George,” an incredibly positive Mullen told the Chicago Sun-Times the week of Guirsch’s death. “I never really have. He was someone who was disturbed, and you know, there are a lot of officers out there that risk their lives every day. It was just my turn, I guess.”
Since then, Mullen has worked as a news reporter, politician, and successful businessman of a food company that will soon become a national brand.
When Life Hands You Apples
It’s no secret that Mullen likes to keep busy.
“I like to get up and swing the bat,” he says. He was presented with the opportunity to report for CBS informing the public about people with disabilities, a passion he pursued for four years.
“I was a ventilator-dependent quadriplegic reporting the news. It was crazy if you think about it, but it worked,” said Mullen.
Having been born into a police family – Mullen’s father served as a Chicago cop, and his wife is an officer today – Mullen missed his first love and found a new way to protect and serve his city by running for alderman of Chicago’s 41st ward in 2010. He ran as an Independent candidate, and though he came in third, he looks back at the experience as one of the greatest and most difficult things he’s ever done.
Another light bulb went off for Mullen when a nurse told him about her family’s barbeque sauce business. His mother made arguably the best apple sauce in the world, and what better way to honor her than to bottle her recipe? After much local success, Mullen launched a campaign to go national with it.
Mullen exceeded his goal of raising $25,000 through KickStarter, a funding website for new companies, which will help him put his product – Officer Mullen’s Chicago’s Finest Craft Apple Sauce – on shelves in 14 additional states within six months.
“It’s never been about the money,” said Mullen. “It’s about me keeping busy, and sharing my mom’s spirit.”
Although he’s reached his goal, Mullen says he still hopes to break even.
“I’m my own worst enemy. I love to give the stuff away. I gave away two just today, going to the bank! It’s a bad business model,” he joked.
His brothers and sisters in blue at the Chicago PD are largely behind the funding for Officer Mullen’s Apple Sauce, and in turn, he donates yearly to the Chicago Police Memorial Fund.
Life With the Top Down
Another passion Mullen has managed to keep alive is his love of General Motors muscle cars. With his nurse of 17 years, Bill, in the driver’s seat and his ventilator in the backseat, Mullen cruises through town like he did over 30 years ago in his ’68 Corvette convertible.
“Apple sauce and horsepower,” he said laughing, recollecting his passions.
“Ninety percent of the time when I wake up it’s like Christmas,” he said. “I got shot in the cheek with a .357 and I’m alive. It’s better than winning the lottery. I’m still a husband and a dad; I can still watch my daughter grow up. Things aren’t so bad.”
His daughter, now 17, was only 6 months old when he was shot on duty.
“I’m the same guy I was before I was shot. I’m setting an example, that there is life after [a tragedy] like this, you know? That’s what it comes down to. If you’re disabled, you still have opportunities, but it’s up to you to pick yourself up by the bootstraps.”
To help Mullen with his launch and get a taste of the world’s best apple sauce, visit http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/chicagosfinest/mullens-apple-sauce-chicagos-finest-craft-apple-sa.