SALT LAKE CITY — Josh Holt described his first few harrowing hours in a Venezuelan prison during an interview Tuesday on NBC’s “Today,” his first since arriving home a week ago after two years behind bars.
“At the very beginning it was horrible. They put me in a cell that was no bigger than what a twin bed would be. They had covered the door with a plastic bag so I wasn’t getting very much air. It was super, super hot,” he told “Today” co-host Hoda Kotb.
Holt’s wife, Thamy, and his parents, Jason and Laurie Holt, joined him in the 7-minute interview at the show’s New York City studio.
Holt, 26, said he just laid on ground in the cell in his underwear, sweating as cockroaches crawled all over him.
“They never took me out to go to the bathroom, so if you had to use the bathroom, you either had a bottle or a newspaper. You could just choose,” he said.
The Holts were in their apartment when police banged on the door, Holt said. Thamy opened the door and the police asked her if there were any men in the room. When she told them her husband was there, they entered the apartment, questioned him and left.
“They ended up coming back like a half-hour later just to take me,” Josh Holt said.
“At first I wasn’t afraid because here in America you trust your police officers,” he said. “But over there, I didn’t know it was so dangerous.”
Police also took Thamy Holt into custody.
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
FILE – Josh Holt and his wife Thamy and one of their daughters Marian Leal react as are family and friends cheer as they arrive at the International terminal of the Salt Lake City International airport on Monday, May 28, 2018.
Thamy Holt was placed in a small cell with 23 women, Josh Holt said. The police tried to get her to turn against her husband and sign paperwork saying he was a bad person, but she didn’t want to do it because she knew it was all fake, he said.
“So they actually started to put her fingers into pencil sharpeners to take off her nails, to scare her. They tried to scare her with Tasers,” Josh Holt said.
Venezuelan intelligence officers say Josh Holt had weapons and was an American spy.
“None of that’s true,” he told Kotb.
Josh Holt met Thamara “Thamy” Caleño through online Spanish lessons after returning from a Spanish-speaking, LDS Church mission to Washington state. He traveled in June 2016 to marry her in her hometown of Caracas. The two planned to wait for her visa before flying to the U.S.
Laurie Holt said there was a lot of anger during the two years her son was behind bars.
Alex Brandon, Associated Press
FILE – The family of Joshua Holt, who was recently released from a prison in Venezuela, father Jason Holt, left; daughter, Marian Leal; mother, Laurie Holt, and his wife, Thamara Holt, right, sit on a couch in the Oval Office of the White House during a news conference on Saturday, May 26, 2018, in Washington.
“But I just had to keep pushing,” she said in the interview. “I knew that I was his voice and I was the only thing that was going to be able to get him home.”
Laurie Holt said if she wasn’t loud in bringing his case to the American public and U.S. officials to push against the Venezuelan government, “I knew I’d never get him home.”
Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., along with Senate Foreign Relations Committee senior staffer Caleb McCarry, were among those who worked behind the scenes to free Josh and Thamy Holt.
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro released the couple to Corker in Caracas on May 26. They flew to Washington, D.C., that day and arrived back to the Holts’ home in Riverton on May 28.
Josh Holt said on “Today” that he and Thamy are writing a book about their experience. He said they want to help and bless people in hard situations.