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Hope In Darkness – Ep. 4 – Full Transcript

Full Transcript – Ep. 4: Independence Day

Court date after court date comes and goes without any resolution for the Holt family. Thamy and Josh find themselves stripped of both dignity and basic human rights. At home, July 4th festivities are tinged with news of the Holts’ arrest. 

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Ep. 4: Independence Day

HOST BECKY BRUCE: 

Hope in Darkness is a podcast that addresses sensitive topics including torture, abuse, and human rights violations. Listener discretion is advised.

The arrest of Joshua and Thamara Holt on June 30, 2016, came in the middle of a volatile situation in Venezuela. Accused of holding an illegal weapons cache, they found themselves rounded up and taken to El Helicoide, a prison that housed political prisoners and played host to torture and other human rights violations. At any moment, Josh knew his wife could earn her freedom. All Thamy had to do was turn on him.

THAMY HOLT: 

While we were waiting, the girl…the cop day [was] pushing me to sign papers to pull over Josh a bad charge, and I never signed it.

BECKY

As you know, they even tortured her to try to make that happen. Thamy didn’t budge.

THAMY:   

He’s a bad person. He has a gun. He’s a spy. And I say, no, he’s not. How you know? Because I trust in him.

JOSH HOLT: 

Out of all the things that they were telling her — that she was never going to be able to…for a mom to be told that she’d never see her kids again. I can’t imagine what that would be like. Well, she stayed strong. She knew that all those things that were being said about me weren’t true. From that day forward I’ve always been grateful. I’ve known that. I know how strong our relationship was because of that.

BECKY:   

Josh knew he was in a bad situation, but he also figured they’d have to let him go. He thought the entire ordeal would eventually make one of those horrible stories he’d tell people later on.

JOSH

We used to have what we call “hell week” in our football camp, where it was just three days, a week-long, and we call that “hell week.” I thought, man this…now I know what the meaning of “hell week” really is.

BECKY:   

Almost a week after their arrest, Josh and Thamy were loaded together into the back of a van. They were headed to the Palace of Justice in Caracas for their preliminary hearing. It’s a pair of imposing concrete buildings connected by an arch that crosses over a busy thoroughfare, Bolívar Avenue.

JOSH:   

That was the first time I’d seen my wife in a long time. Those five days.

BECKY:   

Arrested on June 30. That meant July 4, 2016, would be Josh’s new Independence Day — or so he hoped.

JOSH

I remember thinking okay, this is it. I know I’m gonna get my freedom.

BECKY:   

It didn’t start out very promising. He and Thamy checked their dignity at the courthouse door and were separated again.

JOSH

I had to go into this room and take off all of my clothes and bend over. So they could check, make sure I didn’t have anything. And then from there they took me to the cell, and this place was literally like a dungeon.

BECKY

Cement benches lined the walls. And if he needed to relieve himself, he was welcome to use the hole in the corner.

JOSH:   

Like, going into a porta potty doesn’t even…doesn’t even accumulate to a little bit of the smell that you could smell there.

BECKY

Waiting.

JOSH:  3:38 

And that’s where I spent over eight hours of that day.

BECKY:   

Hoping.

JOSH

I remember when we finally got our names called out, they came and got us out of our cells and started taking us up. I remember thinking, we’re going to be freed. You know, they don’t have my fingerprints. They don’t have anything on us to show that stuff’s really ours.

BECKY

He assumed court in Venezuela couldn’t be that different from the United States.

JOSH:   

That’s not the way it was. In fact, when I saw the judge for the first time, I immediately knew that I was screwed.

BECKY

I’m Becky Bruce, and this is Hope in Darkness, Episode Four, “Independence Day.”

JASON HOLT (JOSH’S DAD):

They had Josh’s passport, his driver’s license. Things started clicking a little more thinking, well, you know, something bigger is going on here.

NEWS ARCHIVAL: 

A Utah family says their son is sitting in a Venezuelan jail after they say he was framed for being a US spy.

DEREK HOLT (JOSH’S BROTHER): 

I mean, what do you do when you find out your brother’s in, got put in prison, saying that he was a CIA agent.

BECKY:   

In this episode, we go back to Josh’s hometown of Riverton, Utah, as his friends and family first learned about everything that was happening to him and Thamy. Thamy and Josh had their first look at prison life from the inside.

[BREAK]

BECKY:

A few days before Josh was taken to the Caracas courthouse, his family was getting ready to celebrate the Fourth of July the way they always did. For multiple days leading up to the holiday, the residents of Riverton, Utah enjoy Riverton Town Days. There’s a rodeo, a carnival, a parade. There’s even a pie eating contest. American flags line the streets. Kids hold sack races and cornhole tournaments at Riverton City Park. Josh grew up here with his older brother and two sisters. It’s a small city of about 40,000 people, situated on the southern end of the Salt Lake valley, about 20 years miles south of Salt Lake City. Founded in the 1860s, the city of Riverton has its roots in farming and ranching, but it’s become more of a commuter town to the greater urban area. Still, there are traces of the agricultural roots. Driving through you’ll see the occasional field with workhorses between the rows of suburban homes. It’s the kind of place where Friday night high school football is a big deal. And as a football kid, Josh made fast friends with his teammates.

KADEN HANSEN: 

My name is Kaden Hansen. I’ve known Josh for gosh, around 15 years.

QUYNN ALLSUP: 

Yeah, I’m Quynn Allsup. I’ve known Josh probably 12 or 13 years, I guess.

KADEN HANSEN: 

Lots of football memories. We carpool together for a couple of years to get to school and that’s how we know each other.

QUYNN:   

So, we played the same position in football. We didn’t have a super good start of our friendship. We didn’t like each other much actually.

JOSH

Maybe you didn’t like me very much, and I didn’t know. I looked up to you. [laughing]

KADEN:   

It comes out that Josh is like, oh, I thought we were tight from the beginning. [laughs]

QUYNN:

Maybe that’s-maybe that’s the problem. Maybe, yeah.

BECKY

These guys weren’t just friends. Really, they’re part of Josh’s extended family. Quynn remembers they even pranked Josh’s mom, Laurie, like she was their mom, too.

QUYNN:

And I remember, we came home from school, and I sat in the pantry, probably for like 45 minutes, right? You remember that? I was sitting there forever. I’m like, oh, I’m gonna get her so good. I’m like, oh my gosh, come get a snack or something. Like, hurry up! [laughing]

JOSH:   

I think I ended up saying like, “Mom, can you get something out of the pantry for me?”

QUYNN:

And I remember we’re there for like, 45 minutes. I’m sitting in this freaking tiny pantry, like, you know, like, propped up next to the, you know, Captain Crunch or something. I remember it, but it was worth it. I mean, she slugged me hard, though. I mean, she wouldn’t hold back.

BECKY

Much like Josh’s brother, Derek, not all of Josh’s friends were convinced that going to Venezuela to marry a girl he just met a few months before was the best idea.

QUYNN

I was really mad at you. I was angry, because there’s was a lot of times…

JOSH:  8:19 

[laughing] It’s coming out, the truth.

QUYNN:

… and it goes all the way back to, we were on a lunch break and I remember you telling me “Hey, I just been talking to this girl online. And she’s from Venezuela,” and I’m like, “Oh, my gosh, dude.”

BECKY:

Before Josh left to get married, there were definitely mixed feelings among his family and friends. His mom, Laurie, worried about his safety. Thamy reassured her that she would take care of Josh. And to be fair, here in the US, we weren’t necessarily getting a complete picture of the crisis in Venezuela. Josh’s dad, Jason, remembers being concerned — but not overly so.

JASON HOLT (JOSH’S DAD): 

You know, we were all nervous for Josh to go down there and do that. Venezuela was bad. It was nothing like…when he went, they didn’t have the travel warnings. They were still cautionary, but it wasn’t as bad when he went, you know, the first of 2016 as it was the end 2016, 2017. The marches and all that stuff started happening when the inflation went crazy.

BECKY:   

But then came the weekend before the Fourth of July, 2016. Kaden, Quynn, and some of Josh’s family members were attending the parade that Friday, July 1, just like every other year. The Holt family and Josh’s friends had no reason to suspect anything other than that Josh was enjoying his time in Venezuela. Until —

JASON:   

We just got home from work, and we got a Facebook message that said, “911 Josh Thamy prison.” I thought, what the heck is that?

BECKY:   

The message was from Thamy’s mother. But at first Jason and Laurie thought maybe they were punked, or someone was trying to extort them. Then, Josh’s brother Derek said, they got a second message.

DEREK:

Showing that Josh was on Venezuela’s newspaper, and it had all of his, you know, his library card and his driver’s license and his passport.

JASON

Maybe five 20s, like 100 bucks. His concealed weapons permit. Why he took that out of the country, I’ll never know. So, when we saw that, things started clicking a little more. Thinking well, this, you know, something bigger is going on here.

BECKY

The family didn’t speak Spanish. Josh’s mom Laurie reached out to her son’s friends Quynn and Kaden, who both spoke Spanish after serving missions in South America.

QUYNN:  10:46 

And we were at a Fourth of July parade. And I remember getting a call. I think she actually texted me first. Said, “Hey, Josh is in jail.” And I thought, what does that mean? She was just frantic. Just out of her mind —rightfully so of course.

KADEN

Yeah. So that’s funny to hear, because it’s a similar thing. I was sitting at the same Riverton Days parade. And I know that she must have contacted you first because…I’m going to call her Mama Holt. But Josh’s mom texted me and then like, two or three minutes later you texted me. You think it’s fake of course, because…

QUYNN:

Yeah.

KADEN

Like this couldn’t actually be happening.

BECKY

Kaden Hansen did what most of us would do — tried to search for more information.

KADEN

And I started Googling news reports out of Venezuela and trying to translate. I remember my wife – who didn’t know anything that was going on – kept trying to get my attention to watch the parade or whatever. I’m just sitting there scrolling like crazy on my phone.

BECKY

After the parade, everyone headed over to Jason and Laurie Holt’s home, not far from the city park.

JASON

The first thing I did is, I went online and tried to find the number to the embassy in Venezuela. So, I contacted the U.S. Embassy down there, and they were not aware yet of an American being taken.

BECKY

In fact, Thamy had called the embassy right away when Josh was taken. Josh’s parents had an unexpected roadblock right off the bat.

JASON

They were hesitant to give me any information because Josh was over 18.

QUYNN

I think at that point, I spoke with Thamy’s mom, I believe. I think I was the first one to actually speak with her, because we didn’t still know what was going on.

DEREK

We just started building up our case, basically and just started buckling down and just started contacting as many people as we could. My mom is one that sprung into action.

QUYNN

She was sending probably hundreds of text messages and call after call. And so from day one, it was just straight, that’s all it was about. Looking back on it now, that was the start of a basically two-year, daily, hourly, every single minute, that’s what her focus became.

BECKY

The one thing none of Josh’s friends or family could figure out was — why? The few articles they had found so far just raised more questions. Where did all those weapons come from? Did Josh really take a grenade with him to Venezuela?

DEREK

I mean, what do you do when you find out your brother’s in a different country, that just got put in prison saying that he was a CIA agent, ex-military, whatever, working with the US to go against Venezuela? Did they really frame him? Like, why would they do that?

QUYNN:   

We didn’t know what was happening. We didn’t know if it was gonna be a long term thing, if they just wanted money.

DEREK

Like some rich kid, that we’re going to send a ton of money. Because they got the wrong guy if that’s what they’re wanting.

BECKY:   

The Holts were able to understand through the messages from Thamy’s mother, and her conversations with Kaden and Quynn, that the same people who arrested Josh and Thamy planted evidence in Thamy’s apartment. At the same time, from the American perspective, that sounded crazy — like a movie plot.

QUYNN

Is he really in jail, or are they just trying to pull some crap? And when I finally realized, this is legitimately real is when [they] had a picture of your passport and your license. And so, I remember being mad. We all…how many times did we tell him? This is not…he shouldn’t do this.

DEREK

Yeah, because I just remember us being, like, really mad. A lot more things were coming out, and it was Fourth of July. And it just wasn’t the same. I blamed Thamy for a lot of this because it’s like, why would you reach out to an American boy knowing where you live and knowing where he lives?

QUYNN

I didn’t have a problem with her at all, because we had talked a lot. I really liked her. She was really fun to talk to. I just remember the whole situation. I thought, man, why don’t you just wait? Why don’t you just wait? Let her come here, figure it out. So, I remember, like, it was almost like…not angry at you for what you did, but it was hard to help feeling a little bit like that.

DEREK:   

We went right over here to the park, the Riverton City Park and watched fireworks, and I don’t even think mom and dad came. I think they stayed home actually. It was me and my sisters, and it just wasn’t the same, really emotional.

BECKY TO DEREK:

Yeah, and you’re a pretty tight family, right?

DEREK

Yeah.

[BREAK]

BECKY

On July 4, 2016, before meeting the judge at the Palace of Justice, Josh did his best to stay positive.

JOSH

I haven’t talked to a lawyer. I don’t know what to expect, but I know that I’m…I know I’m gonna get my freedom.

BECKY

He was about to get an education.

JOSH

We were just sitting on the floor outside of the office door of the judge. That’s where I met our lawyer for the first time.

BECKY

Thamy and Josh told the attorney everything that happened, the knock on the door, the arrest, the interrogation, the planted evidence. The attorney said, “Don’t worry, we’ll do what we can to get you out of here.”

JOSH:   

Today is my Independence Day, and they have nothing on me.

BECKY:

Then, they went into the judge’s office. And Josh met the judge’s eyes and knew they were in trouble.

JOSH

It was the type of glare that made me feel like I wasn’t even a human being. That’s when she said that we would have to go to 45 days of investigation. So, for 45 days, we’re gonna have to go back to SEBIN and sit there and wait.

BECKY:

The SEBIN, remember, is a government intelligence agency, similar to the American FBI or CIA.

JOSH: 

I was just shocked. We get out of our room, and we go to talk to our lawyer, and he just bounced. He just…he just left. We had questions. There are people around. My wife and I were crying and tearing up. But we didn’t know what was going on, why, and how? He just left.

BECKY:    

Thamy’s family had scraped together the money to hire the attorney, but it looks like he just took that money and ran. They never saw that guy again. Guards loaded Josh and Thamy into the van and drove them back to El Helicoide — this time to stay.

BECKY

Josh had some time to think on the drive.

JOSH

I can do this. Forty-five days, you know, 45 five days.

BECKY

But then he got back to El Helicoide, and a guard showed him to the place where he would be living alone for those 45 five days. There was nothing in Josh’s background to prepare him for his new home.

JOSH

There were black plastic garbage bags taped up against the bars so you couldn’t see the inside of the actual cell itself. She opened the door, and I looked in. As soon as I stepped in, all these cockroaches just went up against the walls and into this pile of clothing slash bedding. Then she shut the door behind me.

BECKY

The cell was about as wide as a twin-sized bed and maybe just a couple of feet longer. Josh looked around at the walls. Someone — or maybe more than one someone — had written on the walls with black permanent marker.

JOSH

Just writings and sayings of different things from the Bible, things that people have written down, gang signs. I just remember looking at it and just thinking, wow, I can’t believe that I’m here.

BECKY

Eight or 10 feet up, there were a couple of tiny openings in which Josh could see a couple of non-functioning fans. Two fluorescent bulbs flooded the cell with light. The lights burned day and night.

JOSH

I kind of paced for a little bit. I didn’t really want to get the bedding stuff down. I didn’t want to take it out and just see what I was really gonna have to live with.

BECKY:    

Eventually, though, he did. He shook off the cockroaches and tried to ignore the flies. It didn’t help that the temperature in the cell was sweltering. No air flowed from those high windows. The plastic on the door blocked airflow from that.

JOSH

So, I remember taking all my clothes off other than just my underwear and just laying on this disgusting brown pad thing that they gave me. That just smelled bad. I just knew I was like, okay, you know what? Forty-five days, I can do this.

BECKY

It’s hard to say who had the worst situation. Josh was isolated in a cramped cell with a two-liter bottle for any bathroom needs. Thamy, meanwhile, found herself in a cell with two bathrooms that she had to share with more than two dozen other women.

THAMY:  20:42 

Okay, dormíamos 33 mujeres en un cuarto con dos baños…[fade down]

TRANSLATION

Thirty-three women slept in one room with two bathrooms. We slept in bunk beds, above and below. When I arrived, they gave me a towel, toothpaste, toothbrush. They gave me flip flops and the first few days I had to sleep with a girl, because there wasn’t space for me, in the same bed, on the floor, on a two-inch mattress.

THAMY

[fade in]…a la misma cama en el piso en un colchón como de…dos pulgadas.

BECKY

Both of them went through almost a kind of hazing process.

THAMY:   

My first week was so bad. They hit me.

BECKY TO THAMY: 

The other women or the guards?

THAMY

The other women, they hit me. And, I think it’s not okay, but I understand because you are new in a new place. With time, I understand they did that to me, because they was thinking I was a cop.

BECKY TO THAMY

Like a snitch.

THAMY

Yes. Mhmm.

BECKY TO THAMY

They thought that you were there to tell on them.

THAMY:  22:02 

Yeah. Every time when someone new get in the jail, they did the same.

BECKY

Alone in his cell, no one physically hurt Josh. But it was disgusting.

JOSH

I just remember cockroaches always crawling over me and I’d flick them off, and eventually it gets to the point where you just kind of get used to it.

BECKY:   

Josh’s mind raced. He thought about ways to convince the government of his innocence, as sweat dripped down his face and into his eyes. The things he would tell an attorney if and when he finally got one. Whether his friends and family had any idea what was going on. Would they be able to protect him or help him from so far away? He thought about a video he sent home just before everything went sideways. He had walked around Thamy’s apartment, showing how they did laundry without a dryer. They laid clothes out across the couch and chairs, pretty much every available surface — including the suitcase, where the SEBIN said the grenade was.

JOSH:   

Even in the spare bedroom where my suitcases where, we had my suitcase flipped open. We had socks going along the outside of the suitcase so that the socks could dry. I went through this entire apartment filming, and that video for me was proof that there was nothing in there. I mean, I literally filmed my suitcase, and you would be able to see that there’s nothing in there. So, there was these little tiny things that I just kept thinking about. That I could tell the jury or my lawyer or whoever I could tell, to prove my innocence, because I was innocent. I knew it.

BECKY

During that long first hot day, Josh got a small meal — some rice and a little bit of meat.

JOSH

I remember taking 45 pieces of rice, that first night, setting those aside. And every single day, I’d throw one of those pieces of rice away. For me, it was a way that I could tell at least where I was at in the process.

BECKY:   

Next time on Hope in Darkness.

JOSH

Just laying on the ground, in my underwear, sweating profusely, cockroaches crawling all over me. And I was in just agonizing pain.

BECKY:  24:46 

Hope in Darkness is written and produced by me, Becky Bruce. Additional producing and editing came from Nina Earnest. Sound Mixing by Trent Sell. Our executive producer is Sheryl Worsley. Original theme composed by Michael Bahnmiller. Additional voice work provided by Rebecca Cressman and Alex Kirry. Special thanks to Josh and Thamy Holt and their family for sharing their experiences and story. You can follow us on Twitter and Instagram at Hope Darkness pod or online at hopedarkness.com and your feedback is always helpful. Drop us a rating or review wherever you listen. Hope in Darkness is a KSL podcast.

Dive deeper into the Josh Holt story.