New Times,
New Thinking.

The Apology Line is a curious, compelling listen

Confessional voicemails recorded by strangers in Eighties New York are at the centre of this strange story.

By Anna Leszkiewicz

In 1980, an artist called Allan Bridge posted flyers around the streets of Manhattan, New York City. “ATTENTION ­CRIMINALS,” they read. “You have wronged people. It is to people that you must apologise, not to the state, not to God. Get your misdeeds off your chest! Call apology (212) 255-2748.”

Thousands of people called to divulge sins great and small – even those that warranted no apology at all. A woman with a lilting Texan accent apologised to her husband for being overweight; an upset child confessed to hitting their neighbour’s aggressive dog in self-defence. But quickly, darker messages made their way on to the machine. One man claimed to be the Zodiac killer, another, calling himself “Richie”, said he targeted and murdered gay men.

[See also: BBC Radio 4’s The Untold returns with offbeat human stories]

Bridge was known only as “Mr Apology” to his callers and the press, until he died in 1995. His widow Marissa Bridge narrates The Apology Line, a documentary podcast from Wondery that considers Bridge’s ­conflicted feelings around how to ethically navigate his most successful project, and the dark turn it took when serious violent offenders began to call in and admit their crimes – including the strange cat-and-mouse game that later unfolded between Bridge and Richie. This all makes for the type of eccentric, grimly engrossing ­mystery that defines many famous ­podcasts, but it also says something of Bridge’s original ­achievement that the voicemails themselves are the most compelling part of this story. They are both relics of Eighties New York, and sound strangely contemporary, as though the messages were being left now. They are wide-open windows into ­other human lives.

[See also: BBC Radio 4’s Conspiracies is a deep, broad consideration of conspiratorial thinking]

Select and enter your email address Your weekly guide to the best writing on ideas, politics, books and culture every Saturday. The best way to sign up for The Saturday Read is via saturdayread.substack.com The New Statesman's quick and essential guide to the news and politics of the day. The best way to sign up for Morning Call is via morningcall.substack.com
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how Progressive Media Investments may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.
THANK YOU

A Wisconsin police officer makes the disturbing confession that he often gets “a little too carried away outta line” and “beats the shit out of” the people he arrests: “Most of the time it feels really good.” One man says, with urgency and pain, “I was in Vietnam. When I think of things I have done, I’m sorry that I still have life.” These ­snippets raise impossible questions about violence, remorse, shame, forgiveness and ­rehabilitation: 40 years on, they remain as compelling and confounding as when they were first recorded. 

The Apology Line 
Wondery/Spotify

Content from our partners
ADHD in the criminal justice system: a case for change – with Takeda
The power of place in tackling climate change
Tackling the UK's biggest health challenges

This article appears in the 21 Apr 2021 issue of the New Statesman, The unlikely radical