Sleeping on the floor of a Venezuelan prison cell, with cockroaches crawling on him, Josh Holt said he daydreamed of his homecoming.
“I just kept imagining, what would it be like coming into the airport,” Holt told FOX 13′s Jeff McAdam. “What would it be like living here?”
Holt spoke with McAdam in his first local media interview Monday, two weeks after his return to his hometown of Riverton following a nearly two-year prison stint on what he says were trumped-up allegations of dealing weapons. He had traveled to Venezuela in 2016 to marry Thamara “Thamy” Caleno, whom he had met online.
They had returned to their Caracas-area apartment from their honeymoon about three days before they awoke to shouts and thuds outside their apartment.
“At 6 o’clock in the morning [Thamy] woke me up,” Holt said. “She just had this look of fear in her face. From the look on her face plus the things I was hearing — the screams, the pounding, the babies crying … I got a little scared.
“So we got down, said a prayer and then just tried to relax, and that’s when we heard the ‘boom, boom, boom,’” Holt said, mimicking the sound of a knock on the door. “The dreaded sound you don’t want to hear.”
Officers looked at Holt’s passport and left, he said. But about a half-hour later, they returned and knocked again, he said.
This time, Holt said, they didn’t wait for anyone to open the door.
“They just came right through the door and pointed their guns right at me,” Holt said.
He was placed in the back of a truck and taken to the notorious El Helicoide prison, he said. Thamy arrived after him.
“Before she even got there, they were saying that I was a bad person and that I was trouble and I had done all of these things,” Holt said. “I was like, ‘What are you talking about?’ … All of a sudden now they’re talking bad to me, threatening me for my Social Security number and everything else.”
The couple were accused of stashing grenades and a rifle at their home. Holt said a neighbor was a paid informant and concocted the allegations against them.
“No, I’m not a Secret Service spy,” Holt said.
Thamy Holt said prison officers threatened her repeatedly to leverage a statement against Josh.
“They told me things like they were going to rape me,” she told McAdam. “They were going to take away my clothes. I was going to have to sleep naked. That all started after they had tried to have me sign a paper to basically declare things against Josh.”
Josh had recently returned from a church mission when he met Thamy online. They began a long-distance relationship, and he said he proposed to her when they visited a Mormon temple together in the Dominican Republic. They went to her home in Venezuela for the wedding and were living with Thamy’s two daughters when they were arrested.
The Holts’ court proceedings were repeatedly delayed. The first six months were most difficult, Holt said. He and Thamy only saw each other for a minute or so each day, when he would buy water to bathe. He didn’t have a toilet and his cell was the size of a twin mattress, he said. During his first week, he said, he developed kidney stones but there was no medic.
“For the first six months, I was pooping on … paper. I had to pee in bottles,” he said. The door of the cell was wrapped in black plastic to cut off air circulation, he said.
”[I remember] laying down on the cement with cockroaches crawling over me, and just sweating profusely,” he said.
Thamy Holt said the women were held together, some sleeping on beds and some on the floor. She said she slept during the day while most of the other inmates were awake, to avoid fights.
After six months, the guards seemed to lose interest in them, Holt said. They were able to spend more time together — about eight hours each week.
Thamy Holt said she cried every night, longing for her two daughters. When they visited, Holt said, they asked Thamy to try to escape.
“How do you help little girls understand, ‘You have to wait, I still can’t be with you‘?” Thamy Holt said, with her husband translating from Spanish. One of her daughters was eventually flown to Utah to live with Holt’s family while the Holts were in prison; the other stayed with her father in Venezuela as the months ticked by.
Holt said he was able to keep up with events outside the prison walls. He had internet access and said he bribed a guard to get his phone back. His mother, Laurie Holt, tried to keep politicians’ attention on his case.
Last month, Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., met with Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro and secured the Holts’ release.
“We still didn’t believe it,” Holt said. “Later that night some of the head bosses … came in and said you might be getting your freedom tomorrow, so gather your stuff together.”
After the Holts and their daughter were flown to the United States, they met President Donald Trump and finally flew to Utah on Memorial Day. A crowd of more than 100 relatives, friends and other well-wishers greeted them.
“It was something crazy just to see all these people supporting us, and they don’t even know us,” Thamy Holt said.