The Oscar-winning actor plays a man who takes a bribe from a hijacker, played by John Travolta, in his upcoming movie The Taking of Pelham 123.
And Washington connected with the character because he took part in petty crimes when he was growing up in a tough New York neighbourhood.
He says, "I believe I have been that guy. Not recently, but you don't forget. I'll never forget what it feels like not to eat, no matter how much food you get. I agree that it's not quite the same situation, because he (character) has taken money and I haven't done anything like that. But the humiliation, that's happened in the boxing ring when you are getting beaten up. And we've all done a small crime... Oh, I've been very bad.
And Washington knew how lucky he had been after bumping into one of his old crewmembers during a stint on Broadway.
"We all used to ride the trains together. Sneak on the trains, jump the turnstiles, go to town and hang out. I don't see them so much any more because I don't go to Mount Vernon (the New York suburb he grew up in ). But when I did Julius Caesar on Broadway, one showed up at the play. He had been in the penal system for 28 years and he asked for my help, so I helped him get a house. At least, I hope he bought a house. The second one died. The third one is a chef doing okay. And I am the fourth one.".