By Kate Samuelson
June 5, 2018

Josh Holt, the U.S. citizen who returned home on May 28 after spending nearly two years in a Venezuelan jail without trial, is speaking out for the first time about the deplorable conditions he faced during his imprisonment.

Holt, a 26-year-old Mormon from Utah, was jailed in Caracus in 2016 under the false allegation that he was in possession of weapons and involved in espionage – 15 days after his marriage to Thamara Caleno, a native Venezuelan. Caleno was also jailed and the pair’s trial dates were regularly postponed for inexplicable reasons.

“At the very beginning it was horrible. They put me in a cell that was no bigger than what a twin bed would be,” he told NBC’s Today show. “They had covered the door with a plastic bag so I wasn’t getting much air – it was super super hot. I was literally just laying in the ground in my underwear and just sweating as cockroaches were crawling all over me.”

Holt also spoke out about the deplorable sanitary situation. “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.

After their two-year ordeal, Holt and his wife arrived in Salt Lake City airport on May 28, where they were met by family and friends and received a hero’s welcome. They were also given medical care and visited President Donald Trump in Washington.

The treatment faced by Caleno was even worse. “She was in a cell with 23 women,” Holt said. “They were trying to get her to go against me, [they were filling out paperwork and getting her to] sign things saying I was a bad person… she didn’t want to do it because she knew it was all fake, so they started to put her fingers into pencil sharpeners to take her nails off and scare her. They [also] tried to scare her with tasers.”

Write to Kate Samuelson at kate.samuelson@time.com.

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