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Hope In Darkness – Ep. 8 – Full Transcript

Full Transcript – Ep. 8: Marian & Nathalia

The Holts work to get Thamy’s daughters to the US. Josh and Thamy finally start getting regular “visits” from the outside world – but also become frustrated to their breaking point over their lost human rights.  

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Ep. 8: Marian & Nathalia

HOST BECKY BRUCE: 

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

No longer having to borrow cell phones was a turning point for Josh and Thamy in prison. 

JOSH HOLT: 

I asked my mom if we could get some money over to my mother-in-law so that we could get phones for myself and my wife. And just some other little tiny things.

BECKY

Thamy’s mother Maria smuggled in basic phones for both Thamy and Josh. Nothing fancy. Josh got a pink flip phone.

JOSH

Actually, Thamy’s grandma loved that phone so much that when I finally got a new phone that was a little bit better, I actually sent that phone back so her grandma can have it. She still has it to this day. She loves that little pink flip phone.

BECKY

He no longer had to smuggle notes to his wife. Now that each of them had a cell phone, their prison relationship started to feel familiar.

JOSH:   

Now we’re back into the same situation we were before, where we were just texting each other back and forth to get to know each other. Well, now we’re married. And here we are on our first couple months of marriage — and we’re texting each other back and forth.

BECKY

And where most newlyweds would have that period of adjustment to work out differences and learn things about each other, their newlywed phase played out in separate cells in front of their fellow inmates.

JOSH:

As you can imagine, she had her own trials and I had my own trials, and it was really hard. It was hard at first, and there were a couple days and a couple times where I honestly thought that we weren’t going to make it. There were just things that arose that, you know, put questions in her mind.

THAMY HOLT: 

Ya Joshua siempre andaba en mal humor…[fades down]

TRANSLATION:   

Josh was always in a bad mood. He was always angry. He said that it wasn’t fair…

THAMY:   

Él había dado dos años de su vida predicando el evangelio.. [fades down]

TRANSLATION: 

He had given two years of his life preaching the gospel. And he had done everything he thought was good in life. And he didn’t deserve to be a prisoner.

THAMY

[fades in]…entonces no era agradable a ver a Josh enojado cada semana…[fades down]

TRANSLATION

Then it wasn’t enjoyable to see Josh angry every week because I at least could see my mom. Josh didn’t have anyone. Then it wasn’t fair that I could see my mom, see my girls, and he didn’t see anyone. That was causing problems, not envy, tension.

THAMY:   

Tensión.

BECKY

Right, the girls. On top of everything else — wrongful imprisonment, no trial, limited food, and water — Thamy and Josh still had two little girls at home. Marian and Nathalia were seven and four.

I’m Becky Bruce and this is Hope in Darkness, Episode Eight, “Marian and Nathalia.” In this episode, we’ll look at the efforts to get Thamy’s daughters safely out of Venezuela, while Thamy and Josh stayed in prison. You’ll also get a closer look at all of the factors that made those efforts that much harder. That’s after the break.

[BREAK]

BECKY:

One of the things Josh’s parents worried about when he left home to get married in Venezuela was that he would become a stepdad.

JASON HOLT (JOSH’S DAD)

I was not a fan.

BECKY:   

That’s Jason Holt, Josh’s dad.

JASON

I told him that’s a big step. You know, getting married itself is a big step. You’re becoming an instant family, and you’re going to another country to do it.

BECKY:   

Josh had never met Marian and Nathalia. They didn’t go along with Thamy and her godmother to the Dominican Republic.

JOSH:   

I didn’t meet them until I got to the house for the very first time on June 11, 2016.

BECKY

The girls, again, were very young — just four and seven. But Josh himself was also young, just 24 years old when he first started talking to Thamy, 25 when they got married.

JOSH

I get there, and now I’m thinking okay, these are going to be my stepdaughters, and I’ve gotta make a relationship with them. I am just this newly returned missionary from the Church of Jesus Christ that is now getting married to this person from a different country that has two kids. I had talked to them over the phone and seen them in videos, and they were super, super cute. They always said super cute things, but now this was real. This was…they’re right here in front of me, and now I had to talk. I just didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know how to talk to them. I didn’t know how to be a dad.

BECKY

Here’s a perfect example of the learning curve in front of him. Nathalia, or Nathy as the family calls her, was causing a little mischief not long after Josh arrived.

JOSH

And I wanted her to say sorry, or to correct it somehow. I can’t remember, really remember what was going on. I just remember her response to what I was telling her. And so, she did not want to do what I was telling her. So, finally, I started counting. I said, “three, two, one…”And she just screams, “zero!” My wife lost it. She was trying so hard not to laugh. And I’m just looking at her like, what the frick do I do? Because this is funny. But at the same time, it’s like, okay, I’m now your dad and I need to, you know, teach you how to live in this world. If you’re not gonna listen to what I have to say, I mean, of course, this is just the very beginning and for me, it was okay, this is what’s gonna happen to my life. Now I have these two daughters. I don’t really know how to act and tell you the truth, I was actually getting really freaked out and really scared. For, you know, for the beginning of those first two weeks.

BECKY:   

Pretty much every parent ever can relate. It’s one of the few jobs in the world where the on the job training is sort of self-taught. Thamy tried to ease him in. Then they got arrested. Thamy called her mom to watch the girls as soon as Josh was taken. Her own arrest came a few hours later. She had no idea how long it would be before she would see the girls again.

THAMY:   

[sighs] Puedo hacerlo en español?

TRANSLATION

Can I do this as Spanish?

THAMY:

Estar separada de las niñas…[fades down]

TRANSLATION:

To be separated from the girls was the hardest thing I had to deal with in my life.

BECKY

Shortly after the Holt’s arrest, most of Thamy’s family fled Venezuela for Ecuador. Her aunt, her sister, her brother — but not her mom and grandma.

THAMY

Mi mamá y mi abuela fueron los únicos…[fades down]

TRANSLATION

My mom and grandmother are the only ones who stayed, because my mom and grandma had to take care of the girls and my mom, she couldn’t leave me. Josh and I could only count on my mom.

THAMY

[fades in] Joshua y yo solamente contaba con mi mama.

BECKY:   

That included taking care of the girls, who struggled without their mom.

JOSH:   

Of course, her mom is not going to tell us this. But afterwards, Thamy started talking to her mom. Her mom said, “Yeah, they would wake up in the middle night to screaming for you. And, of course, I mean, her mom’s not gonna tell her that while Thamy is just stuck in jail and can’t do anything about it.

BECKY

Nathalia, the younger of the two, lost her father when he died in the car accident we discussed in a previous episode. Marian’s father was alive, though maybe not the most involved. After all, he and Thamy were teenagers when they became parents.

THAMY

Él no era el mejor papa…[fades down]

TRANSLATION

He wasn’t the best father, but he was studying. He wanted to make a career for himself to give a better life to the girls. So, he focused on his studies.

THAMY:   

Entonces yo tenía que recordarle, mira, tienes una hija, ven a buscarla.

TRANSLATION

So, I had to remind him. Hey, you have a child! Come pick her up!

BECKY

A few months into the Holts’ imprisonment, Marian’s dad started to become more involved.

THAMY

Como dos o tres meses después…[fades down]

TRANSLATION

About two or three months after becoming a prisoner, he took Marian. He decided to care for her, and he separated Nathalia and Marian. So, my mom only looked after Nathalia, and Marian’s dad just took care of Marian. The girls were separated, and they saw each other on weekends, or when my mom brought them to visit me. That was the time they shared as sisters.

THAMY:   

[fades in] Es el tiempo que ya compartían como hermanas.

BECKY

Marian and Nathalia did not fully understand what was going on. They just knew their mother was away.

THAMY

Marian empezó vivir una vida…[fades down]

TRANSLATION

Marian begin to live a life with her dad, without her mom who was working, because the girls didn’t understand that I was detained, only that I was working in someplace.

BECKY

Maria tried to help them see Thamy as much as she could. With Nathy, that was easier since she lived with Maria. With Marian, it was harder.

THAMY

Yo solo veía las niñas cuando mi mamá les llevaba a visitarme…[fades down]

TRANSLATION

I only saw the girls when my mom brought them to visit me. Sometimes he didn’t let her go, because or he was busy or he didn’t have someone to bring her. The excuses he gave me where, I’m busy. The girl can’t go. The girl has homework. The girl has to study. The girl has to learn. She has some activities to do, or I’m going to take her somewhere.

TRANSLATION: 

[fades in]…voy a llevar la niña al tal sitio.

BECKY

From the beginning, the plan was to try to get both girls out of the country and to safety in the United States. Because Marian’s father was both alive and now involved in her care, they decided first to focus on getting Nathy out.

THAMY

Trabajamos mucho, pedimos mucha ayuda…[fades down]

TRANSLATION

We worked a lot. Asked for a lot of help. Signed a lot of papers so that my mom would have total responsibility for her. And she was responsible. I ceded my rights to her as the grandmother, so that my mom could do for her what she saw is right.

THAMY

[fades in]…para que mi mamá pudiera hacer con la niña lo que ella consideraba bueno…[fades down]

TRANSLATION:

And Laurie and my mom agreed about sending Nathalia to the United States.

BECKY

Josh’s dad, Jason, remembers the process as lengthy and complicated.

JASON

We tried for a long time to get her here.

THAMY

Nathalia necesitaba visa…[fades down]

TRANSLATION

Nathalia needed a visa. She needed signed permission to leave.

JASON

But then we could just never get the forms we needed in Venezuela, or the judges wouldn’t sign something. They wanted more money. They wanted this, they wanted that.

THAMY

Era muy difícil…[fades down]

TRANSLATION

And it was very difficult. It was very difficult throughout this process.

BECKY

That’s probably an oversimplification. The efforts, like the work to win Thamy and Josh’s freedom, would drag on for months.

JOSH

We tried for a year to get the justice system for children to go into the prison, just so Thamy could sign a paper. That’s all we needed, was just Thamy’s signature on a paper. And we couldn’t get it.

BECKY

To be clear, getting the girls to the U.S. was not a new plan. From the beginning, when Josh and Thamy got married, they planned to stay together in Venezuela while waiting for the necessary paperwork to get the girls to the U.S. with them. But all of that got a lot more complicated once the Holts were arrested. They felt a real urgency to act. What if something happened to Thamy’s mother or Marian’s father? What would happen to the girls then? More court dates came and went. The judge didn’t show or deferred acction for another 30 days without warning. More time passed. Christmas was coming up fast. The Venezuelan government often granted clemency to select prisoners at the holidays. Thamy and Josh dared to hope it could be them. They started thinking about what it would be like to be reunited with the girls. To be able to get them out of the country — but they weren’t the only ones dreaming of freedom.

JOSH

So, with that knowledge, a bunch of people started thinking, okay, well, maybe, since we’re coming up to that time, if we enter into a hunger strike, they’ll free us.

BECKY

The political prisoners wanted to draw attention to their cases and gain freedom.

JOSH

And so that’s what they did. A bunch of political prisoners all got together. They all decided at the same time that they were going to do a hunger strike. Which is, they’re not going to have any food at all or water.

BECKY

I’ve been able to verify this through records from Amnesty International. Renzo Prieto, a student opposition leader, was arrested in 2014 for organizing protests against the government of Nicolas Maduro and was one of the political prisoners at El Helicoide at the same time as the Holts. By Christmas of 2016, Prieto had already been in prison with no trial for over two years. He led 13 of his fellow political prisoners in refusing all food for 15 days. He lost 20 pounds. It worked. The hunger strike ended. About 10 of the political prisoners were released on December 17, 2016 — but Prieto was not among them.

LAURIE HOLT (JOSH’S MOTHER) ARCHIVAL: 

We get our hopes up and then comes crashing down.

BECKY

And to the disappointment of Laurie Holt, neither were Thamy and Josh. Their hopes for a Christmas release and a reunion with Thamy’s daughters vanished.

NEWS ARCHIVAL: 

They received news several political prisoners were being released.

LAURIE ARCHIVAL: 

We’re hoping that Josh is one of them.

NEWS ARCHIVAL: 

He wasn’t.

LAURIE ARCHIVAL: 

I guess we just kind of had hope that maybe this was gonna be the one. We just did. Let Josh come home.

NEWS ARCHIVAL: 

A plea from almost 4000 miles away.

JOSH:   

And so, after being there for, you know, six, seven months, it just got to us. It got to us that nothing was happening, that there was no progression. It almost seemed like we were taking a step backwards instead of forwards.

BECKY:

As their own situation looked more and more permanent, Thamy and Josh got more and more desperate to rescue the girls, Marian and Nathalia, by sending them to Josh’s parents in the U.S.

[BREAK]

BECKY:

As 2016 bled into 2017, and the Holts crept toward the year mark of their imprisonment, Josh’s family back in the United States enlisted a new ally.

CARLOS TRUJILLO: 

I am originally from Venezuela, born and raised in Caracas.

BECKY

That’s attorney Carlos Trujillo.

TRUJILLO

I studied my high school there, and I came to this country when I was about 19 years old. At that moment, Chavez was starting to show some of his dictatorship tendencies. And my parents decided to send me over to Salt Lake City with an aunt, who had been living here. And that’s how it started.

BECKY:   

The manner in which a native Venezuelan who now lives and works in Utah as an immigration attorney became involved in the Holt’s case is a fascinating story all by itself that we’ll delve into in a future episode.

TRUJILLO

Every single one of those things that happened led to Josh.

BECKY

Carlos saw his role as being something of a bridge between the Holt family in Utah and the legal team on the ground in Caracas. He helped them navigate a complicated system that was arguably in chaos and held together with red tape.

TRUJILLO

Thamy knew, Thamy had a clear idea that she really wanted the girls out. But it was difficult because she understood that there were a lot of moving parts there too, as well. In a country when pretty much everything is not moving forward, there is not even paper to print a birth certificate or anything like that. Also, the fact that everything that you are able to do is because you’re gonna have to find a person who you can trust, pay them a pretty penny for them to get it done.

BECKY

The process dragged on for over a year, complicated by the reluctance of Marian’s father to let her leave.

THAMY

Quería convencerlo…[fades down]

TRANSLATION

I wanted to convince him to send Marian with Nathalia, and he always said no. “When you leave, I will let her go.” She’s losing so many things. There, she’ll have a better life. She’ll have a better quality of life. She’s going to learn more things…but I don’t care. “It’s better that she’s with me because I’m her dad. Then with people she doesn’t know.”

THAMY

[fades in]…es mejor que esté conmigo que es su papa.

TRUJILLO

Talking to him, and trying to make him understand, trying to make him see that it was the best for his daughter. It was hard to get through to him. It was bad enough that we never really talked again. But that’s when I talked to Thamy and said, “Look, Thamy, you’re the one who’s gonna have to key to really make him understand this.”

THAMY

Hasta el último día…[fades down]

TRANSLATION

Until the last day, I didn’t know if I was going to reunite with Marian. He told me, “When you leave. I’ll let her go.”

BECKY

They focused on Nathalia. Christmas came and went again.

JOSH

And so finally my parents were like well, I mean is there, a different way we can do it? And so Thamy said, yeah, there is if you want to pay for it. We ended up having to pay a judge $800 to allow her mom to just sign a piece of paper.

JASON

Eight hundred bucks, would’ve paid that in a heartbeat, you know, six months earlier. Eight hundred bucks? Are you kidding me? I would have mortgaged something or did whatever we had, you know, we still had a lot of money, stuff for him, but I would have paid with that money to get her here instead of waiting so long. And all it took was frickin six, eight hundred bucks.

BECKY

It still wasn’t a done deal, though.

TRUJILLO

All the paperwork was ready. Then the other concerns came about as far as, are they gonna let her get out of there? How was she going to enter the United States? Then the State Department, on our end I can say, they actually were very helpful. I mean, they were, they made things happen. It wasn’t as swifty, I guess as we would have liked. But they did their job, and they made it happen.

BECKY

Thamy also felt conflicted.

THAMY

Lloré muchisimo porque yo todavía estaba presa…[fades down]

TRANSLATION

I cried a lot because I was still a prisoner. I was locked up. I didn’t know how much longer I’d be locked up without seeing my daughter, because we were on trial. We were in the decisive part where they would decide if they’d condemn us to 18 years or give us freedom, as we were innocent. Then I imagined if the judge said, “Okay, you’re going to go to jail for eighteen years.” When was I going to see my daughter?

THAMY:

Entonces yo podía imaginar que la juez decía, okay, van a estar 18 años. ¿Cuándo volveré a ver mi hija?

TRANSLATION

If that happened, I said, “Okay. God, take care of her. Protect her. I know she’s going to be fine there, and she’ll have love, in a good home and her studies.”

THAMY:

Solo tuve que confiar en Laurie…[fades down]

TRANSLATION

I could only trust in Laurie. I just put my faith in her that she was going to do a good job with the girl, and I’d stay there closed in those walls until who knows when.

THAMY

[fades in] …yo quedarme allá encerrada en estas paredes hasta quien sabe hasta cuando.

BECKY

Finally, it looked like everything was in place. Maria brought Nathy to El Helicoide to say goodbye.

THAMY

Ese día celebramos su cumpleaños…[fades down]

TRANSLATION

That day we celebrated her birthday. It was February 7th. We sang “Happy Birthday.” I cried a lot. She knew that she was coming there but didn’t exactly know how. And she didn’t know she wouldn’t see me anymore. She came to the United States on Sunday…no, I believe it was Saturday, February 10th.

THAMY

[fades in]…no, sábado, creo que era sábado 10 de febrero.

JASON

Then when we got her, we had to fly to Miami to pick her up.

TRUJILLO

One of the first concerns that Laurie is expressed to me is like, “Okay, I’m happy. I’m going to go get her. I am so excited. But I’m nervous because we’re not going to understand each other.”

BECKY

Carlos offered to go along with the Holts to Florida. And because he also understood Nathy might not warm up to him easily as a strange man, he planned to bring along his nine-year-old daughter.

TRUJILLO

My daughter speaks both languages. My daughter had, you know, knowledge of what we’ve been working on. And she knew what we were doing. And she said, “No, I would love to be her first friend.”

BECKY

Thamy still had some misgivings, but she felt better learning there would be government officials taking care of Nathy on the plane and Carlos and his family on the ground to help ease Nathy’s transition.

THAMY

Entonces eso hizo que fuese un poco más seguro para mi y me tranquilizaron un poco más…[fades down]

TRANSLATION

That made it feel safer for me and calm me a little more. She was little, getting on a plane. That she wouldn’t get robbed. That she wouldn’t get kidnapped.

THAMY

[fades in]…que el avión llegó bien, que no occurra nada mala en al avión, que no hay choque…[fades down]

TRANSLATION

That the plane would arrive okay. That nothing bad happened to the plane. That there wouldn’t be a crash. That was my worry as a mother. But thanks to God, she arrived okay. Laurie was waiting for her there in Miami. Then it was very good.

JASON

When it landed, we had to wait hours for her. We thought it was gonna be like a half hour. It was hours. Then the immigration officials and the cops would come out, and they talked to us and go back in. And they’d come out and talk to us, and they would come out and say that she’s crying. She’s so scared because she was telling them, you know, what if my grandma and grandpa don’t like me? So that was…that was pretty heart-wrenching right there.

BECKY

Nathy had nothing to worry about. Instagram video shows the moment when Laurie embraced her for the first time, kneeling down to child level for one of her famous mama bear hugs.

JASON ARCHIVAL

Laurie, let me see her.

JASON:

It was…it was good. I think she knew that she was loved. It helped a lot Carlos having taken his daughter, because it’s like she had a friend that could speak Spanish because Laurie and I couldn’t speak Spanish.

TRUJILLO

I will say that I was a little hesitant as far as…I didn’t know if I was doing the right thing involving my nine-year-old daughter in something like this. But I remember when she arrived, my daughter helped her carry the little luggage that she had, and they just started talking. And there was a connection. It was rather quick.

JASON:   

That first night, we gave her a bath and put her in bed. She was scared of the hot water in the bathtub and didn’t really want to do it, but Laurie took her in there, made her get a bath. We took her in this, in the bed. She had her own big bed with this great big puffy white comforter and pillows. And she just snuggled right in there and fell right asleep. So, it was pretty good.

BECKY

Josh’s brother, Derek, was the least excited about Nathy’s arrival.

DEREK HOLT (JOSH’S BROTHER): 

I can’t remember why. I remember my mom dad was just gonna pawn me off. Make me babysitter all the time. And I was like, “I’m not gonna stay at home, watch this kid that I don’t even know all the time.”

THAMY

A Derek no le gusta los niños…[fades down]

TRANSLATION

Derek doesn’t like kids. He’s a person, he’s not hard hearted, but he’s a little tough. And at the beginning, he was bothered to have Nathy. But afterwards it was Uncle Derek, Uncle Derek, and he had to accept it.

THAMY

[fades in]…tío Derek, tío eso, y él tenía que acceder.

JOSH

Wasn’t even a week and Nathalia had Derek just wrapped right around her finger. Everything that she wanted, he’d do. Go buy her stuff at the store, do stuff with her.

DEREK

Take her to the park. She loved going to the park and sit there and…she wouldn’t mind the best, but then, okay, I’m not taking you to the park anymore. And, “Okay, okay, okay.”

THAMY

El no podía hacer nada. Era solo una niña, no tenía nadie…[fades down]

TRANSLATION

He couldn’t do anything. She was just a girl who didn’t have anyone. And she fell in love with her uncle and loves him. He only had to follow in her footsteps.

BECKY

The transition wasn’t perfect, but they did their best to help Nathy feel welcome and loved.

JASON

Laurie would get her ready for bed, you know, get her bathed and it was up to me to put her to bed. So, I would. I’d read her books every night. Say her prayers. Do it double-time. I’d read it in English, and then I read it in Google Translate, so she could hear it in Spanish. So, it took forever to read four pages. And then she’d want one more page, and I’d have to tell her no, and then, she normally was really good. You know, there are some times where she got a little emotional, and then she’d start crying for her mommy. She wanted her mommy. What do you say to a six or seven-year-old girl that doesn’t have her mom?  Is another country, you know? Of course, they are gonna be wrapped around your finger. And you try to comfort them, but…And then, I did her homework every day with her, because I got home before Laurie did from work — which I thought about changing my schedule for that. But I didn’t. So, I had a pretty good bond with her.

BECKY

I’ll be honest, that sounds kind of adorable.

JASON

[laughs] Ohh geez. Well, she was a cutie.

BECKY

Marian would not be able to leave Venezuela until Josh and Thamy did — if and when that might happen. Next time on Hope in Darkness.

LAURIE ARCHIVAL:

He has the internal bleeding that is actually very dangerous for him.

NEWS ARCHIVAL: 

The family’s lawyer in Venezuela says a judge has ordered Josh to be taken to a hospital immediately.

LAURIE ARCHIVAL

The pneumonia or the bronchitis.

NEWS ARCHIVAL: 

The jail refuses to comply.

LAURIE HOLT ARCHIVAL

I am pleading as a mom to please don’t let him lay there and just die.

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.