What do you think would happen if anyone, from casual blue-collar workers to serial killers, could call a number and confess whatever they wanted? Would you want to know what they did? Would you want to hear their reasons? Would you want to confess something?
Spotify Wrapped came out this week and it brought to my attention the fact I could gush about one of my favorite podcasts in this week's column. I recently got into podcasts earlier this year and nearly gave up on them when I realized how inconsistently I would tune in to my usual rotation.
Admittedly, I started by listening to everything from daily astrology readings to sociology theories for entertainment and background noise; though, I still felt like I couldn't find anything that kept me invested enough to actually follow through with a series from start to finish.
It was only when I was about to give up that I finally found one podcast that satisfied my psychology- and sociology-loving mind.
"The Apology Line."
“The Apology Line” is a podcast based on the real-life Apology Project conducted by Allen Bridge, who, for the sake of his Project, took on the pseudonym Mr. Apology. The Project was a way for people to anonymously confess anything from minor shoplifting to murder without fear of getting in trouble for admitting their crimes. The Project started in 1980 and ran for over 15 years, collecting over 1000 hours of confessions. The podcast itself plays several snippets and stories of real people who called the Apology line when it was up and running.
Bridge was an everyday man, a painter in Manhattan, who had done several galleries prior to this Project. He advertised the Apology Project as a way for people to apologize for things they were guilty about without being put in the spotlight. When someone called the number for Mr. Apology, they would be greeted with the introduction message, "This is Apology. Apology is not associated with the police or any other association but rather is a way for you to tell people what you have done wrong and how you feel about it. Talk for as long as you want. Thank you." Bridge cautioned his callers not to state their full names at any point in their confessions to maintain anonymity since their confessions would be recorded.
This podcast first caught my interest because, at first glance, it feels like a harmless project that wouldn't get much traffic or that would be popular only for a short time. However, upon further inspection, it's such a unique concept that I don't believe could ever be recreated today.
An everyday person couldn't put up posters around their town asking strangers to call a number and expect to remain anonymous, not in today's age with modern technology at least. It's a project that could only be conducted "safely" in the '80s with an answering machine and phone booths. It's fascinating to think that at one time, anyone and everyone could call one man in New York and apologize without significant repercussions.
Another great touch to this podcast that makes it feel so real, thought-provoking and different from other true crime podcasts is that Bridge's wife, Marissa Bridge, narrates the whole podcast. Since Bridge's wife is the narrator, we as listeners get to paint a picture of Bridge's Project from someone who witnessed it from start to finish, both from the distance of not being in the Project and from being the person closest to Bridge. In addition, we get to hear how the Project and its callers impacted his life over the span of 15 years.
Bridge's neighbor was a psychologist. She often warned him to be cautious about who he was, where he lived and to generally keep his personal life separate from his Project. Unfortunately, Bridge took this advice very loosely and as a result, he became attached and obsessed with one frequent caller who confessed to murdering several people.
Bridge handled this Project almost entirely by himself; the answering machine and eventual additions were in his apartment. He listened to the confessions and apologies almost religiously, even replied and gave commentary later on as he slowly became more and more obsessed with his Project. However, the main part that hooked me was how Bridge takes notice of a serial killer and begins conversing with this man, even contemplating having lunch with him, joking, "My place or yours?"
As you go through the first few episodes and start to see the transition from a curious person to a person who is obsessed, I have to ask, would you be able to handle hearing secrets from hundreds of thousands of people every day for fifteen years? Would you turn in criminals if they gave their full name and crime in detail or would you respect the social contract set in place and keep these confessions from the police? What is the morally correct way to go about these case-by-case confessions?
The podcast is only eight episodes long and each episode is between 38 and 40 minutes long. So for four hours, you get to hear about the rise and fall of a man who started a Project for the benefit of others but instead becomes consumed by his Project. I can go on and on about the technicalities and the small details of this podcast but I could never do it justice without spoiling everything.
This is the story of a fantastic Project and how it consumed its creator as well as his life, and the psychological aspects of how Bridge's life and history predisposed him to these obsessive behaviors, leading to his connection with a serial killer. The sociological aspects of how his environment created him and enabled his actions are so fascinating to piece together.
I HIGHLY recommend “The Apology Line” to anyone who loves true crime, hearing snippets of other people's lives, the crazy things some people do and think and the extent to which some people will go to fuel their passion project.
And, yes, I most definitely used this column as an excuse to listen to the whole series again.
You can stream “The Apology Line” on Spotify, Apple Podcasts and Wondery.