Share this story...
Latest News

Hope In Darkness – Ep. 7 – Full Transcript

Full Transcript – Ep. 7: Working the System

Josh and Thamy Holt continue to learn how to navigate life in a corrupt dictatorship – from which guards to bribe and how, to how to get along with their fellow inmates. New connections with cellmates provide new opportunities.  

Listen: Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Spotify, & more.

On social: @HopeDarknessPod FacebookTwitterInstagram 

 

Ep. 7: Working the System

HOST BECKY BRUCE: 

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

BECKY:

Contact with home was great. But after that first conversation with his parents, Josh also began to get more contact with his fellow inmates. Usually because they just happened to be doing work near his cell.

JOSH: 

The inmates are the people that do everything in the jail. If there’s something needs to be fixed, they find one of the inmates that can fix it. Maybe he worked with building houses. He was a contractor, or maybe it was just people that can clean. Maybe he works with electrical.

BECKY

Like the guy Thamy and Josh met when they came back to the prison after that first court appearance, who was fixing a fan and talking on a cell phone. One day, about a month into his time at El Helicoide, while Josh was sitting in his cell by himself, an inmate who was sweeping the floor brought Josh a piece of paper.

JOSH: 

The piece of paper basically stated this lawyer’s name. And this lawyer told me that she had talked to my family, and that they wanted her to represent me.

BECKY

Easier said than done. First, he needed to confer with Thamy. And they were only able to communicate by passing notes back and forth, hidden inside the worn-out label of a reused two-liter bottle, once a day.

JOSH:

We finally came to the conclusion that we both were in agreement that we’d allow this lawyer to represent us. Now, the next fight that we had was to be able to be seen by this lawyer.

BECKY

The inmates at El Helicoide were supposed to be allowed visits from attorneys twice a week.

JOSH:

— a visit on Tuesday, and you’d have a visit on Thursday. The time limit that you could see your lawyer is just an hour.

BECKY

Depending on the circumstances in both the jail and the country, the start of that visit might get delayed, but it still ended at the same time.

JOSH

There’s times where they wouldn’t allow the lawyers to come up until maybe, 10:50. So you have ten minutes to meet your lawyer.

BECKY:

The attorney who worked for a human rights organization kept the pressure on and prevailed. The Holts got their time with her.

JOSH

We were talking with her quite a bit at the very beginning. She just always seemed very positive about everything that was happening. I guess it wasn’t the first American that had been brought to this jail, but normally they only last a month to three or four months, and then they’re set free.

BECKY

Josh held on to the promise of his 45-day hold. If he could just make it 45 days. He’d have his next hearing, and he and Thamy would be freed. After all, he thought the evidence was planted. He and Thamy were innocent. Then came word the hearing was canceled.

JOSH

When I found out that they weren’t going to take us to the courthouse, I was really nervous — and so was my wife.

BECKY

The judge had decided there was enough evidence to send Thamy and Josh to a pre-trial. They didn’t even have a date for that. Just word that the whole thing was deferred.

JOSH

And that was a really hard day for me. I honestly thought that we were going to get our freedom.

BECKY:   

I’m Becky Bruce, and this is Hope in Darkness, episode seven, “Working The System.” In this episode, we’ll talk about what happened after the hope of a 45-day stay and a quick release evaporated. We’ll take you step by step through how Thamy and Josh learned to navigate prison life. Those steps include new legal counsel, improved living conditions, help from the inside — and help from the outside, courtesy of Thamy’s mom, Maria.

BECKY

Around the same time as the cancelled hearing, about six weeks into his imprisonment, Josh learned his stay in solitary confinement was finally over. He was moving to a new cell.

JOSH

This room was probably 15×15. When I entered the room, I saw two twin size beds, and a column right through the middle of both the beds. I saw another table where there was a TV. Little tiny TV. They went and they put me over in the corner by one of the twin-size beds. And that’s where I was to stay.

BECKY TO JOSH: 

Not on the bed?

JOSH:

No, not on the bed. I was on the floor. There were three people that were in this room with me at the very beginning. The one that was in the first twin-size bed when you entered onto the left, his name was Colombia. He had been there for over three years.

BECKY

Colombia was accused of the 2014 murder of a Venezuelan lawmaker.

JOSH:   

And then the person that was in the corner on the right side of the room, his name was Franklin.

BECKY

Josh had met Franklin, a political prisoner, before they became cellmates. In fact, Franklin had lobbied for Josh to be moved into better conditions. He and his fellow political prisoners didn’t think it was right for Josh to be kept alone and deprived of things, like visits from the outside world. We don’t know for sure if that’s why Josh wound up getting moved, but it very well could have been.

JOSH:   

My relationship with him was all right, we still weren’t…I still wasn’t 100% comfortable with him just because I really didn’t know who he was. But one thing that was really nice was he was someone that was fluent in not only Spanish, but as well as English. So, I was able to communicate back and forth.

BECKY

Franklin’s charge — terrorism.

JOSH

When you kept walking and passed the big column that went through the center of the room, there was another twin-size bed. The person that was on that bed goes by the name of Buñuelo.

BECKY

Buñuelo was a nickname, roughly translating to “the donut.” His real name was Claudio Giovanni Jimenez Gomez.

JOSH

That’s when I found out that he was one of the top-ten deadliest people in Venezuela, and I’m sleeping maybe a foot away from him.

BECKY

He had come to El Helicoide a few months before Josh. Accused of killing a police officer with a grenade, threatening others, then holding a woman and her daughter hostage to avoid arrest. Josh put his belongings on the other side, next to Buñuelo’s bed on the white tile floor. He had no idea what to expect in his new surroundings.

JOSH

That night was very interesting, because Colombia was not in the room for most of that day.

BECKY

It was Colombia’s birthday. For that reason, he was allowed out in the halls and into other parts of the prison.

JOSH

You can get a lot of things in the jails that you probably shouldn’t have.

BECKY

Somehow, Colombia had gotten a hold of some alcohol.

JOSH

He was drinking, drinking heavily. He drank so bad that he began to…he became violent. He started fighting with the guards. They beat this guy up bad. They beat him really, really bad. They ended up bringing Colombia into our room, opening the door, and they just threw him in there.

BECKY

Colombia hit his head on the table holding the TV and knocked over what little water they had. The beds set up on milk crates went flying.

JOSH

Then they slammed the door behind him and locked it. And he looked bad. He had…both of his eyes were black. They were just swollen shut. He was bleeding all over. We ended up cleaning everything up and just putting them back on his bed. He slept on that bed for probably three days without really even moving.

BECKY

Was he just sleeping off the alcohol or more seriously hurt? Hard to say. Like Thamy and Josh earlier, Colombia did not get any medical attention beyond what his cellmates were able to provide. It was quite an introduction to Josh’s new room. It was also somewhat educational.

JOSH

After that happened, everything kind of got a little crazy in the room. They knew that, after something like that happened, that the police officers would come in the room, and they do a raid. They’d look for anything they could look for because they didn’t want any photos or news to get out about what just happened. And so, the next day or two, the people that were in our room had moved their cell phones and other items out of the room into other rooms. So that way when the police officers would come in, they wouldn’t find anything.

BECKY

The guards came in during a time when inmates would normally be allowed to have visitation in the hallway. They shut the door and locked it and closed a curtain over the door so no one could see it. They tore the room apart.

JOSH

They’re literally grabbing your stuff, shaking it, making sure there’s nothing in there and then just throwing it. They don’t care where they’re throwing it to, they just get it out of their area.

BECKY

The guards left and locked the door behind them again.

JOSH

And now we were left with this bomb that just went off in our room and things were just everywhere.

BECKY

Josh realized he had a lot to learn about prison life, but he was surrounded by guys with more experience both in Venezuela and at El Helicoide. And one of them, unexpectedly, would be instrumental to his survival.

JOSH:

Buñuelo, the person that was next to me, spent a lot of his time on the phone. So, I didn’t really communicate with him, and I kind of got a vibe from him at the very beginning that he was kind of on edge. I think it was because he was trying to read me and trying to see who I was. He didn’t know if I was a snitch. He didn’t know if I was someone that was sent there to watch him. Or if I was just, you know, some other normal prisoner that he’d get along with.

BECKY

The longer he was there, the more Buñuelo started to open up. He was curious about Josh. How did a gringo like Josh come to learn Spanish? Josh told Buñuelo about his Spanish-speaking mission outside of Seattle.

JOSH:

And I told him, I said, well, I served a mission for my church. During that mission, I was asked to speak the Spanish language. And so, I slowly began to learn Spanish. When I got home from my mission, I met Thamy — as of course you know — and she helped me learn a lot more Spanish. He goes, “Wow, that’s really interesting.” He goes, “What’s a mission?”

BECKY

So, Josh explained — and over time, built a friendship with his cellmate.

JOSH

And one of my favorite stories about him was, I told him about when you get out into the mission field, after you get done with the Missionary Training Center, and you’re out in the field now and you’re just there. You have a person that’s there with you, and that person we normally call our dad because he teaches us things. He normally calls us their son. And so, I just remember he looked at me, and he put his hands on my shoulder, and he said, “Well then, you’ll be my son, and I’ll be your dad. And I’ll teach you everything there is to know here in prison.” And he honestly did. He taught me a lot of things.

BECKY

Squeaky clean Josh Holt got schooled by one of Venezuela’s most wanted. Lesson one, how to read the guards.

JOSH

You had to know what was going on with them to know whether or not they were going to come in and raid yourself.

BECKY

Lesson two — don’t be stingy.

JOSH

He said, “What do you do when someone comes up to you and asks you for a roll of toilet paper?” And I said, “Well, I’ll just tear some off and give him some toilet paper.” And he says, “No, they’ll kill you.” I said, “What do you mean, they’ll kill me?” He says, “Well, how do you know how much toilet paper they need to wipe themselves?” And I said, “Well, I don’t know, but it’s my toilet paper. So, I’m only going to give them as much as I want to give them.” He goes, “Well, that’s one of those things that you have to fight over. Do you want friendship? And people that are be on your side? Or would you rather fight with people because you don’t want to give them toilet paper?” I said, “Okay, that makes sense.”

BECKY

Lesson three — get a side hustle.

JOSH

While you’re there in prison, you had to kind of figure out a way to make your own money. And so, I’d sell juice packets. Something else that I noticed from people, so tons of people would buy cigarettes, but no one would ever sell lighters. So, I said, “Well, what the heck. I’m gonna start selling lighters then.” And that’s what I did. I started selling lighters, and I sold a couple boxes of them.

BECKY

There were more practical lessons too, like how to manage without toilet paper — or a toilet. By folding newspaper into special shapes to, well, catch everything. Getting to know the other men better gave Josh more opportunities to call home. And Franklin, in particular, was generous with Josh.

JOSH

He also had a phone, as well as the other two gentlemen in the room. Periodically, they let me use their phone.

BECKY

He felt bad always borrowing their things. He tried not to abuse the privilege and to find other opportunities to stay in touch when possible.

JOSH

There was another guy, a political guy that was in the prison with me, that came one day to the door. And, you know, wanted to see if I needed anything. I told him that I just really wanted to communicate with my parents, and he said, “You know, I think I can help you with that.” So, a couple days later, he came back with a phone. He said, “I’ll let you have this for, you know, the rest of the afternoon. I just need it back after visitations.”

BECKY

When the guy came back for his phone, Josh felt a renewed sense of hope. His mom had updated him on everything she was doing to try to help from the US, but he also felt impatient. Why was it taking so long? Josh asked the other man.

JOSH

He told me that I shouldn’t worry yet. That the process that I’m going through is normal. That there in Venezuela, there is no system. There’s no justice system. The way the judges work are either…with the government or through money, and so that I didn’t need to worry until I passed about seven or eight months. Then once I got to that point, then I need to start worrying.

BECKY:

The time to start worrying came sooner than he thought it would.

BREAK

BECKY

Thamy also settled into prison life at El Helicoide, where she shared a cell with thirty-two other women. Like Josh, she slept on a mattress on the tiled floor. But unlike Josh, she had a key ally close at hand — her mother Maria. Unfortunately, you won’t hear Maria’s voice. She is living in Ecuador now, but she doesn’t have consistent access to internet for a Skype or Zoom call. And she doesn’t speak English.

THAMY:  16:49 

Mi mamá nos salvó en todo esto tiempo…[fade down]

TRANSLATION

My mom saved us throughout that whole time. She did a lot of things for Josh and me. I’m sure Josh’s mom would have done the same. The difference is that she was thousands of kilometers away and couldn’t be there because her security was going to be in danger.

BECKY

Her support for the couple started with little things.

JOSH

After being there for a couple weeks, we were able to have Thamy’s mom send us in some toothbrushes with different visitors that knew who Thamy was. And so, I was able to get that from her along with some bars of soap and some shampoo, razor, that type of stuff.

BECKY

Then, Thamy earned the right to actually see her mom. That wound up creating a little friction in her relatively new marriage because Josh was not allowed any visitors early on. He couldn’t sit in on Thamy’s visits with her mother. But with time, Maria’s visits proved to be beneficial for both of them.

JOSH

When visitors come into the jail, they have to go through this little line. They basically take everything from you, and they look at everything that you have. But, they’re not always 100 percent thorough in what they’re looking for, and it also depends on who it is that’s there. If you butter up the guards, they won’t worry about looking through your stuff because they just know who you are and are worried about what you’re giving them.

BECKY

With financial aid from Josh’s parents, Jason and Laurie, she found ways to sneak items into the prison when she visited.

JASON HOLT (JOSH’S DAD): 

Took her months to befriend these guards.

BECKY

Again, Josh’s dad, Jason Holt.

JASON

So, every time she’d go to the prison to see him, she’d take them a treat. You know, here’s a sandwich. Here’s a coke. Here’s a cookie, because they’re starving down there.

JOSH:

My mother-in-law was a great cook, and so she would just cook different things and just give them one tub, and then she’d given us one tub.

THAMY:  18:57 

Mamá empezó a ganarse a los funcionarios…[fade down]

TRANSLATION:

Mom started to win over the guards, the workers. She always made cakes. She’s a pastry chef. She’d arrive — a cake for you, a cake for you, for you. And she’d give a little piece of cake to whoever, with the condition that they didn’t search what she brought in our shopping cart.

JASON

Josh will tell me if this is true or not true. So, what I’ve heard is eventually they just stopped checking her bags, and she was able to get stuff into them.

BECKY

First on the contraband list — food.

JOSH

We had to buy all of his food, so we would get money to Thamy’s mom. She’d have to ride a bus to find the food. Which was, you know, the money wasn’t a problem because we could get the money down to her, usually, but then she still had to be able to find the food and get it into them.

BECKY

As you know, Venezuela was in crisis mode. Even the act of shopping for food was an undertaking — one that wasn’t always successful. You might stand in line for hours on end, only to find out the food was gone.

JOSH

So, it’s not like here where you just go park your car, grab your groceries, and put it in the back of your car. She left her house with an empty cart, and she’d take that cart around with her all day long. Up and down hills. Take it back home, which is back up a hill, and then take it back to us, which she had to go up a huge ramp just to get it to us.

JASON

And hope that she could keep all the food and not get it stolen while she’s walking through town with it.

JOSH

Umhm. So, it was just extremely hard for her.

THAMY:

Ella nos llevaba comida cada semana…

TRANSLATION

She brought us food every week. And she brought rice, raw food for me to cook, because many times the food they had there had flies in it, or tasted bad, or the heat would hurt you. And it wasn’t appetizing to eat.

THAMY

Ella fielmente iba cada día de visita, iba dos veces por semana. Ella tenía dos trabajos, y ella dejóuno de sus trabajos para cuidar de nosotros, para llevarnos comida…[fade down]

TRANSLATION:

She faithfully went every visiting day, two times a week. She had two jobs, and she left one of them to take care of us, to bring us food, to be there with us. There came a time when she could visit us four times a week, and she did it.

THAMY

[fade in]… y hizo todo eso caminando, jaulando un carrito de comida tan pesado. Eso hizo que ella se lastimó a sus rodillas.

TRANSLATION

She had to do all of it, walking, hauling a cart of food so heavy that it hurt her knees. Then Laurie and Jason sent her a knee brace, something to make walking easier. This helped her to have a little more support. She did this for two years, two times a week, climbing that mountain with a cart full of food.

THAMY

Dos veces por semana, subiendo esa montaña, con un carro lleno de comida.

BECKY:

Maria had done a good enough job of catering to the guards that she could sneak food in pretty easily. But she still had to be stealthy, especially when the couple wanted cell phones of their own. Again, Laurie and Jason sent money to Maria. Maria found the phones and did what had to be done to get them into El Helicoide.

THAMY

Muchas veces mi mamá tuvo que inventarse la manera de pasarse los teléfonos…[fade down]

TRANSLATION

Many times, mom had to invent ways to get the phones in. Mom used her pants. She used her leggings under her pants, and she placed — no not internally, but in the division, the space between her legs. Mom would place the phone there. She tried to walk more softly and delicately because the walk was hard on her muscles. But that’s how she passed the phones inside.

THAMY:

…pero así pasaba los teléfonos.

JOSH

I remember the first phone that I got was this little tiny pink flip phone.

BECKY

A couple months into the ordeal, Josh was able to check in with his Utah family on a daily basis.

JOSH

That’s kind of what I’d do throughout the day sometimes. I would text them. At night, when I was able to finally talk, I would text them and say, “Yeah, I’m ready to talk, and we can talk now.” And so, then they’d call me. I’d answer the phone and I’d talk to them for an hour or two hours. It was kind of our thing that we do every night.

BECKY

A couple of months into their ordeal, Josh was able to check in with his Utah family on a daily basis without having to borrow phones from his cell mates. Josh and Thamy finally got to have regular communications with each other, messaging back and forth the way they did at the beginning of their relationship. Josh and Thamy’s relationship got another boost, in a roundabout way, from one of Thamy’s cellmates.

THAMY

Ella fue mi primer amiga…[fade down]

TRANSLATION

She was my first friend. I talked to her. She was the first one I started having dealings with because I had an obligation to get along well with her. I had an obligation to get along well with her because — first, she was a murderer. She had killed a functionary, a SEBIN.

BECKY

They called the guards SEBINs, after the intelligence agency for which they worked — a name that also applies to officers for that agency. Thamy doesn’t know why this woman killed the officer, but she does know that like many other prisoners, the woman’s rights were taken away — maybe more so because she killed one of their own.

THAMY

A ella le fue terrible los primeros siete meses…[fade down]

TRANSLATION

And they treated her terribly the first seven months. They raped her. The guards raped her. They beat her. They didn’t give her food. She was like a piñata. They never took her to court. She was there for seven months locked up for having done it, violating her rights because — despite being a murderer — she had rights to be taken to court. Rights to be judged. Rights to an attorney. During that time, they didn’t take her anywhere. Or, that is, SEBIN took her case as one of theirs, and they decided what to do with her. And after that time, after raping and beating her so many times, they put her in the cell where I was. Then, she had already been there a year. I was there one night.

THAMY

Entonces, ella ya tenía en este cuarto un año, y yo tenia una noche.

BECKY

This woman’s treatment, and that of the other women in the cell, changed when she began having an affair with the warden.

THAMY:

Esa relación que…[fade down]

TRANSLATION

That relationship that she had with the superintendent made the time more…made it easier for all the women in the cell because we had more peace.

BECKY

They also got more privileges as a direct result of that relationship.

THAMY

Cada vez que el pasaba por allí…[fade down]

TRANSLATION

Each time that he passed, all the women would make a line to say “Superintendent!” One after the other, “Superintendent!” I want a DVD, and they let me get a small DVD player with a screen, a portable DVD player. Yes, then I could watch my TV all morning, all the time I wanted.

THAMY

[fade in]…gracias a esa relación él era tan permisivo…[fade down]

TRANSLATION

Thanks to the relationship, he was very permissive. One woman received a 21-inch flat screen TV — plasma. Another received an electric kitchen. Then, he let us. The other girls asked for that kind of electric domestic items and a fridge, a mini fridge. She, the girl, she received food from hi, and he was always sending food like McDonald’s, pizza, Chinese food. He was falling in love with her or something, but that made our life marvelous.

THAMY

[fade in]…enamorándola o no sé que. Pero eso hizo nuestra vida maravillosa.

BECKY

Once the affair began, guards rarely raided the women’s cell, making it less likely those items they obtained would be confiscated.

THAMY

No solamente buscan por teléfonos [fade down]

TRANSLATION

They didn’t just look for phones. They also look for money, and they take your money. They’d also take — because those that did the search were women, in the women’s cell — were police women. Then, they take your shampoo, your conditioner, your deodorant. They’d take pretty clothes, earrings, necklaces, bracelets, watches. We had little, but to us it was gold.

BECKY

Thamy’s friendship with the woman in her cell eventually translated into more freedoms for Josh, in a way.

THAMY

Yo hablé con ella, y dije, mira…[fade down]

TRANSLATION

I spoke to her. “Look, ask the superintendent if I can visit my spouse.” She talked to the superintendent, and he decided to talk to me. There I was seen as the wife of the gringo. I was known as the wife of the gringo in the jail. So, she said, “Look, the wife of the gringo wants to talk to you.” And one day a guard says to me, “The superintendent wants to talk with you.”

THAMY

[fade in]…el comisario quiere hablar contigo. Entonces, éste dicem, tengo entendido que tú quieres tener visita con tu esposo, yo digo sí…[fade out]

TRANSLATION

Then he tells me, “I understand that you want to have visits with your husband.” I say “Yes, we haven’t seen each other. We only get thirty minutes. I’m not allowed to talk to him, eat with him, or nothing like that.” Then he tells me, “Starting next week, you can have two visiting days with him.” Then I could leave two times a week. The visits on Wednesdays were from one to three in the afternoon. And on Saturdays, they went from 11 to 5 in the afternoon. Then we had more time.

BECKY

It wasn’t exactly what they pictured when they thought about their first few months of married life. But it’s what they got, occasional visitation, and some life lessons on staying alive behind bars. Josh and Thamy settled into their respective lives at El Helicoide. Months flew by, and they lost track of time. Next time on Hope in Darkness.

CARLOS TRUJILLO: 

Thamy knew, Thamy had a clear idea that she really wanted the girls out.

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 Bohnmiller. 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.