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Hope In Darkness – Ep. 6 – Full Transcript

Full Transcript – Ep. 6: Paging Mama Bear

Back home in the US, Josh’s mom, Laurie Holt, is busily making her voice heard from West Jordan to Washington, D.C. A smuggled cell phone becomes Josh’s lifeline to his family.

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Ep. 6: Paging Mama Bear

HOST BECKY BRUCE:   

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

About two weeks since Josh Holt arrived in an infamous Venezuelan prison, he started to be able to communicate with his fellow inmates. He was able to sneak notes to and from his wife, Thamy, and made contact with the men in the cell next to his. One of them asked if Josh’s family knew where he was.

JOSH HOLT:   

I said no, they don’t know I’m here. He said, “Would you like to call them?” I said, “Would I like to call them? Of course, I would like to call them. 100 percent. Yes!” He said, “Okay. At night, when all the guards go to sleep, I’ll pass you a phone and you can talk to them.”

BECKY:

The hours ticked by even slower that day. Josh waited, pacing in his cell, willing time to go faster.

JOSH

I remember the night finally coming. And he finally passed me his phone. He said, “Watch out for the guards, make sure the guards can’t see you.”

BECKY:    

Josh couldn’t believe it. He dialed home for the first time in weeks.

JOSH:   

The phone wouldn’t connect, just wouldn’t work. And I was devastated.

BECKY

I’m Becky Bruce, and this is Hope In Darkness, Episode Six, “Paging Mama Bear.”

NEWS ARCHIVAL:   

For Laurie Holt, the worry really began the day her son decided to travel to Venezuela.

LAURIE HOLT (JOSH’S MOTHER) ARCHIVAL: 

They think that Josh is a spy.

MIA LOVE ARCHIVAL:

I promise you there’s going to be a day where you and I are going to think of this as a distant memory.

LAURIE ARCHIVAL:

I just want my boy back.

BECKY:

In this episode, you’ll meet Laurie Holt, Josh’s mom, who served a two-year mission of her own — to get the Holts out of El Helicoide and safely to Utah. More after the break.

[BREAK]

BECKY:

Laurie Moon grew up in Pocatello, Idaho, the only daughter in a family with three sons. She met Jason Holt at the drive-in movies —when he stood in front of her, and she kicked his leg to get him to move out of the way. Jason knew that day he would marry her.

JASON HOLT (JOSH’S DAD): 

She was my best friend. But she was, I’d say she was one of the best mothers a kid could ask for. So…she truly was remarkable mom for her kids.

JOSH:   

I love those big bear hugs that she would always give, and that’s why we always call her the Mama Bear. You don’t mess with Mama Bear. You don’t mess with Mama Bear’s kids, and that’s what, that’s who she was.

BECKY:

Josh and his brother Derek knew their friends would be loved and embraced by Laurie, too.

DEREK HOLT (JOSH’S BROTHER):

She was so open and just so happy. And if she didn’t know you, you were getting a hug. Didn’t matter.

BECKY:

The family moved from Idaho to Utah when the kids were very young because of Jason’s work as a computer programmer. The two boys, Derek and Josh, and two girls, Jenna and Katie, kept the Holt family hopping.

JASON:

We’re a lot of fun when we’re all together, I think.

BECKY:

I asked if the kids gave him any trouble.

JASON:

None of my kids gave me trouble. [laughs]

BECKY TO JASON:

They’re all perfect angels?

JASON:

Yeah, they had their mom to deal with.

JOSH:

He just doesn’t know things because my mom had to deal with everything. [laughing]

JASON:

We’ve always been, there’s always been a lot of laughter at our house when all the kids are together. They feed off each other. I got some funny dang kids.

BECKY:

It was hard to find that laughter in the summer of 2016. After Jason and Laurie learned their second child, Josh, was in government custody in Venezuela, it was hard for Derek to see what his Mama Bear went through.

DEREK:

She hit rock bottom pretty bad when…obviously when Josh was gone. But, I mean, what parent wouldn’t?

BECKY:

At the time, Josh was one of about 20 other American citizens who had been imprisoned by a hostile foreign power, countries like Iran and North Korea. We don’t have an exact number, because the government keeps the information classified. But for their loved ones at home, there’s a sense of hopelessness. Who do we talk to? How can we help?

JASON:

There’s no book. It’s all trial and error. Learn as you go. You know, learn to fly or learn to swim or sink. it’s one of those things.

BECKY:

The Holts started making phone calls and did what they could to figure it out. Without fail, every single person involved pointed to Laurie Holt as the driving force behind those efforts. And somehow, she connected with the right people.

JASON:

We rattled every cage we could. We had some good contacts throughout the country and throughout the world, really.

BECKY:

In fact, Laurie had found an inside line to the prison — one Josh himself laid the foundation for as a missionary in Everett, Washington.

JASON:

This lady in Washington…her cousin ended up being a guard in the prison Josh has been held at. He had stomach cancer, and she funded his treatment. And so, besides being a cousin, he kind of owed her. And so, we got information from him, from inside the prison, that nobody…the embassy couldn’t get, nobody else can get.

BECKY:

That’s amazing.

JASON:

Yeah.

BECKY:

But she and Jason couldn’t talk to Josh himself to find out how he was doing. Then, Laurie became the family’s favorite and voice on TV and radio. Starting July 6, just days after she learned about her son’s arrest, Laurie took to the airwaves.

LAURIE ARCHIVAL: 

I did not think that this would happen.

NEWS ARCHIVAL:   

At the Holt home in Riverton this evening a lone sign sits in the window. Inside, signs of a young man whose absence is felt every day.

LAURIE ARCHIVAL:

I just want my boy back.

BECKY:

Putting mama bear out there for the public was a very conscious choice.

JASON:

Emotions play a big part in media. And so, we thought it’d be best to put her front and center. You know, put the crying mom, tug on the heartstrings.

NEWS ARCHIVAL:    

This home will continue to feel a bit empty, and she just can’t bring herself to go into his room.

LAURIE ARCHIVAL:

When I go in there, I can smell him. And it’s too hard [pause] to smell him and know that he’s not here.

NEWS ARCHIVAL:   

This mother will stay by her phone hoping the next phone call that comes will be good news, and that her son is finally coming home.

LAURIE ARCHIVAL: 

I just need it to be over. [crying emotionally]

JASON:

That worked for a while, but then after that, she just knew her stuff.

DEREK

People don’t know what really happened. Until you come to our household, and you saw the notebook that my mom had with all the business cards. Just pages and pages of information. She’s talked to people that most people in their lifetime would never reach, to the top. She had Senator Hatch’s cell phone number. She had Mia Love’s cell phone number.

BECKY:

Representative Mia Love was the local Congresswoman at the time, the daughter of Haitian immigrants. She served as mayor of a nearby city before moving on to Congress.

MIA LOVE: 

Laurie Holt was scary to me in a sense.

BECKY:

Congresswoman Love was one of Laurie’s very first phone calls.

MIA LOVE: 

I want to explain what that means. In that, most of these situations you look at them, and you think, you know, this couldn’t happen to me. This is not something that can happen to me. This happens to other people. Laurie Holt was, in essence, the mother next door, you know this, this hard working, involved mother, active in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. She was just this ordinary mom that all of a sudden is fighting for the life of her son. And it was scary to me because instead of me saying, oh, you know that, you know, these are things that happen to other people because of situations. I found myself saying that that can happen to me, also. What would I want? If that were me, what would I want my representative to do?

BECKY

That phone call changed both women’s lives.

LOVE:

It became a friendship. And she knew that if she called my personal cell phone, and I saw her number come up, that at any time of day, day or night, middle of the night, even if I were on the floor voting, I’d run out and pick up that call.

NEWS ARCHIVAL:

Representative Mia Love released this statement saying in part, “Today, I personally call on President Maduro to stop playing games, give political prisoners due process and to release Josh Holt.”

LOVE: 

And it just seems like it was fairly simple at first because it just seemed as if, you know, there was no reason for this young man to be in prison. We knew that Venezuela was in a horrible state. But at the very beginning, we thought, okay, we’ll just be able to get him a trial. And as soon as you get the trial, it should be fine. And it turns out, it was not okay. That when you’re dealing with a country that has a corrupt regime, that is starving their own people…it was a lot more difficult than we thought.

BECKY:

The two women encouraged each other and tried to stay optimistic.

MIA:

She was relentless. Her engaging personality, her determination. Like I said, she was the sweetest person, but scary in the sense that I saw myself in her. So, she made it…she was so compelling that she made her member of Congress and her senator one hundred percent committed to getting Joshua out. I just kept saying to her, we are not going to give up until he comes home.

BECKY:

Senator Orrin Hatch, who retired after 42 years in office, started doing regular video updates about the case on YouTube.

ORRIN HATCH ARCHIVAL:

But at this time, I ask you to join Elaine and me in remembering Josh, his lovely wife, Thamy, his parents Laurie and Jason, and the Holt family and friends in your prayers.

BECKY:

Jason watched his wife with a sense of pride.

JASON:

She grew so much, so much. I mean, I’m impressed at what she was able to accomplish.

BECKY:

The family was able to get legal representation for Josh and Thamy in Venezuela, but navigating the legal system there was not easy — nor was it cheap.

JASON:

We had some great fundraisers.

LAURIE ARCHIVAL:

We have a Blentech. We have a fire pit.

NEWS ARCHIVAL:

The kitchen table they once all sat around is now filled with items to auction off for mounting legal fees. Same with the front room.

LAURIE ARCHIVAL:

This is just all raffle items.

BECKY:

Josh’s friends pitched in, too.

SOCIAL MEDIA ARCHIVAL:

Good afternoon. It’s with a heavy heart that I’m posting this video, and I’m really doing so to ask for your help.

BECKY:

They took to Facebook and YouTube to plead for donations to a GoFundMe account, set up by Josh’s sisters, Jenna and Katie.

SOCIAL MEDIA ARCHIVAL:

If you can, please donate anything. We would really, really appreciate it. Please share this video with your friends and loved ones on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram any way that you can. And please use hashtag justice for Josh.

BECKY:

It raised nearly $25,000. It wasn’t nearly enough.

JASON:

Yes, we spent a lot of money. I think we spent quite a bit more than my family knows we spent.

BECKY:

The constant attention from local and national media was intense.

DEREK:

Yeah, our house got turned upside down, because I was living here at the time. News people coming, you know, people sit in the front of the house, watching the house, trying to get…hey, what do you, what are your thoughts on this? Yeah, it was just not fun. It was everyday thinking, when are we getting Josh back? How is he gonna get home? Yeah, I don’t know. It’s crazy.

BECKY:

Laurie knew it was important to keep talking about her son, to keep granting interview requests. The more she learned about his health and the conditions of El Helicoide, the more she fought to keep the spotlight on the family’s story.

LAURIE ARCHIVAL:

For us, it’s just continual bombs lowering all the time.

BECKY:

The entire thing was wearying.

KADEN:

I remember feeling powerless to help my best friend. But feeling, and I hope you’ll forgive me for saying this, but feeling worse for your mom.


BECKY:

Joshua’s friend Kaden Hansen, remained in close contact with the Holts — in part so he could help translate messages from Thamy’s mom or news from Venezuela.

KADEN:

We did the things that you can do, right? Like we brought food a couple of times. We’d go to see them. They live across the street from church, to the church that we attend. And so, it was really easy after church to just walk over just say, “hey, how you guys doing? Do you need anything? Is there anything we can do?” But to see her in front of me just like crying and just having a hard time, it was…oh my gosh, it was just so, so, so hard.

BECKY:

Another friend, Quynn Allsup, helped shoulder translating load.

QUYNN:

There wasn’t enough information coming into what we needed to know to figure out what to do. That was the problem. So, I remember those first couple of weeks, it was not every single day necessarily, but several days a week. Talking to your mom, having to translate phone calls or WhatsApp messages or emails, articles. Whenever I would talk to her, it was pretty much always about, you know, what new information do we have now? And how do we use that to help us?

BECKY:

He and Kaden couldn’t take a break from what was going on. Between helping Laurie translate and just living their lives, Josh’s absence was ever present.

KADEN:

People would always ask, “How’s Josh?” And it was, it was great because you felt like, at least I’m doing something. I’m telling the story. Right? I’m getting the word out there, and the more support can only be a good thing. But it was also, like, really hard because there are a lot of times when it wasn’t great news.

QUYNN:

It was really hard to have to tell it over and over with no endgame. There was nothing. You know, there was no…yeah, he just has to wait his time. It was just frustrating, because even at that point we couldn’t even say that.

KADEN:

Like even if they had said, yeah, he’s got to do a year. He’s got to do two years or something like that. It would have been like, we would have at least had a timeframe. But yeah, there’s…and obviously, the only really good news is that he’s coming home, and we didn’t get to say that then and everything else for so long.

BECKY:

Then the family got a text message that would change everything.

[BREAK]

BECKY:

By the summer of 2016, Venezuela’s economic crisis had extended to cellphone networks. In April, two months before Josh arrived, the country’s two largest mobile carriers suspended all international calling. They were millions of dollars in debt to overseas providers, and the government wouldn’t allow them to increase rates to recoup any of that loss. This is the reason why Josh couldn’t get through when he tried to call home on that borrowed cell phone, just about two weeks after his arrest. He was crushed.

JOSH:

I tried to get a hold of the other guy on the other side of the wall, and he just wasn’t talking back and forth to me. And so, finally, he came back after about fifteen minutes, and asked for his phone back. I told him that it wasn’t working. So he said, “Sorry, I’ve got to hide it. I gotta go. We’ll talk tomorrow.” I was thinking, no way. I was this close. After being in here for two weeks, I was that close to just being able to call my mom. Call my dad. Call my family. Tell them exactly what was going on.

BECKY:

Josh didn’t know what his family did or didn’t know at that point. But he figured at the very least, they had to know something was going on, because he hadn’t been in touch. He knew his mom, especially, would be worried.

JOSH:

The next day talking to this kid again. And he said, “You can text her, but you can’t call.”

BECKY:

That night, that’s what he did.

JOSH:

I just said, “Mom.” I sat there, waited and waited. And finally got a reply back and she said, “Who is this?” I said, “It’s Josh.”

BECKY:

Laurie and Jason Holt had been through a rough couple of weeks by then. They didn’t recognize the number, and they couldn’t trust that it wasn’t some kind of cruel trick. They waited to respond, because they needed to think of something they could ask that only Josh would know.

JASON:

Josh had this old truck. This old red Mazda B 2000 that he would drive in high school, and we called it the burrito. And we text back, and we made him say, “If this is Josh, what was the name of your truck?”

JOSH:

And I said, “The burrito.”

JASON:

The only people knew that was my family. So, we knew that it was him.

JOSH:

And she replied, “Oh my gosh, Joshy, how are you? I love you. I miss you.” From that point on, I started realizing that she knew what was going on.

BECKY:

Communicating with the outside world was a lifeline for both Josh and his mom.

JOSH:

We started talking back and forth, and she was just asking the normal mom things, you know. Are you okay? Are you getting food? Are you getting water? So, I told her…kind of my situation in that prison.

BECKY:

He left out some of the details, like the bathroom situation and the scant availability of food and water.

JOSH:

I know how my mom is. I know how worried she gets. I know how much she fights for us. And in my mind, I thought, okay. I don’t think that she’s gonna do anything for us right now. So let’s just tell her that everything’s going okay. And I just told her, I said, “Yeah, everything’s going fine. They give me water every now and then, and they give me food a couple times a day.”

BECKY:

Laurie already knew some of what Josh wasn’t saying. Remember, they had found a way to keep tabs on the goings on at El Helicoide. In part, through people Josh met when he served his mission in Washington State. She told her son about all the work she and the family had been doing to try to get Josh and Thamy out of prison. She told him about all her news interviews and the contacts she’d made with high ranking officials. He told her a little bit about his health problems. They exchanged I love yous.

JOSH:

And I had to give the phone back.

BECKY:

The 5 or 10 minutes they’d spent exchanging text messages lifted Josh’s spirits, and it had a similar effect on his family. Derek recalled his mom crying happy tears for the first time since she found out Josh was taken.

DEREK:

For some reason our family, like, when mom would lose it, or any of the girls lose it, the rest of us lose it. I don’t know what…it’s like a domino effect. Like Mom’s crying, and then one of the girls. And then it moves on to the boys. It’s just like…a domino effect every single time.

BECKY:

She even talked about that on a local news report.

NEWS ARCHIVAL:

The family has now hired a lawyer in the country and a few days ago finally spoke to their son by phone.

LAURIE ARCHIVAL:

It was a tearful conversation back and forth.

BECKY:

Soon, they figured out that while Josh couldn’t call out, he could receive calls from the US. They learned to wait for his text messages. To know when Josh had borrowed a phone and that it was okay to call. They couldn’t always get through. Cell service was spotty in Venezuela, and the walls of the prison were thick.

DEREK:

I remember mom sitting there trying numerous times like five, six, seven minutes of just calling non-stop. And then, ‘we got through, we got through!” Then, everyone would hurry and come and talk.

BECKY:

The communication wound up being a mixed blessing. It was great to hear Josh’s voice, but it also reminded both Josh and the family of where he was.

JOSH:

I don’t know if it was super helpful, or if it was something that made those times harder, because it was super nice to talk to my family. It really was. But at the same time, it was also very hard to talk to them. After I hung up the phone, I had to continue doing whatever it was that I was doing.

DEREK:

It kept my mom going for sure, hearing his voice. Because when she didn’t hear his voice, she was a mess. She could not handle not talking to him, not knowing if he was okay or not.

JASON

It’s tough for all of us, but I think was harder for Laurie. She’s the mom. I had double duty. I had to bring Josh up then I had to try to bring her up. It was exhausting. It really was.

LAURIE ARCHIVAL: 

My biggest fear’s that I’m not going to get him back. That if I do get him back, is he going to be alive? And that is just tearing me up inside right now.

BECKY:   

Next time on Hope in Darkness.

JOSH:   

And that’s when I found out that he was one of the top 10 most deadliest people in Venezuela. And I’m sleeping maybe a foot away from him.

BECKY:

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.